Your health care team
Doctors, nurses and other health professionals offer a range of services to assist you, your family and carers. When you notice signs or symptoms that might be cancer, or have a positive screening test, you will usually see a GP. Your GP will order initial tests and scans. If the results suggest that you might have cancer, you will be referred to a specialist doctor for further tests, diagnosis and staging.
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Your specialist can answer questions about treatment and address any concerns you may have. However, there is often limited time during a specialist consultation. Other members of your treatment team (e.g. GP, cancer care coordinator or social worker) may be able to answer some of your questions more quickly than your specialist (for urgent matters, call 000). Your GP will also play an important role in supporting you throughout treatment, recovery and your ongoing health care. This is why it’s important to develop a good relationship with a particular GP.
Below we describe the roles of the most common members of the treatment team. Not all of these health professionals will be in the hospital or treatment centre, and they may have different titles depending on where you have treatment.
People living with advanced cancer may face additional issues to those discussed here. Learn more about advanced cancer, palliative care and end-of-life issues, what happens to debts after death, and superannuation and cancer. For details, call 13 11 20 or visit your local Cancer Council website.
Some of the health care professionals that can help you include:
GP or family doctor
- assists you with treatment decisions
- refers you to specialists as well as allied health professionals
- can help arrange second opinions
- works with your specialists in providing follow-up care after treatment finishes
- continues to see you for day-to-day health care issues
- gets to know you and your medical history
- may support you during telehealth appointments with specialists if you live a rural area
- may be a medical oncologist, surgeon, radiation oncologist or haematologist
- depending on the type of cancer you have, you may need to see several specialists who will look after different aspects of your care
- diagnoses the cancer and supervises your treatment, follow-up and overall care
- can answer any questions you have about your treatment
- usually works as part of a multidisciplinary team
- if you are treated in hospital, junior medical staff, such as registrars and resident medical officers, may be able to help you with questions and concerns
Cancer care coordinator
- a senior specialist nurse who may be called a clinical nurse consultant or clinical nurse specialist
- coordinates your care throughout diagnosis and treatment, and works closely with specialists and other members of the health care team
- provides information and support
- in a larger hospital may coordinate care for specific cancer types, while in a smaller hospital there may be a general coordinator or none at all
- in rural areas, cancer care coordinators may attend with the visiting oncologist
- in hospitals that don’t have a clinical nurse consultant or cancer care coordinator, the nursing unit manager may have a similar role
- in some cases, more than one nurse may be involved (e.g. a surgical nurse)
- provides counselling, emotional support and advocacy at all stages of living with cancer
- provides information and access to practical support services including accommodation, transport, financial support, child care and home care services
- assesses what sort of support you need, and identify ways you can receive this support
- links you with the people and services best able meet your need
Physical and occupational therapists
- physiotherapists help you to move and exercise safely to regain strength, fitness and mobility
- exercise physiologists prescribe exercise to help people with medical conditions improve their overall health, fitness, strength and energy levels
- occupational therapists offer equipment/aids and advice about getting back to your daily activities
- speech pathologists help with speech or swallowing issues after treatment
Other health professionals
- psychologists or counsellors help you understand and manage your emotional response to diagnosis and treatment
- dietitians help with nutrition concerns and recommend changes to diet during treatment and recovery
- radiographers perform x-rays, mammograms and other scans
- radiation therapists plan and deliver radiation therapy
- genetic counsellors provide advice for people with strong family histories of certain types of cancer
- pharmacists dispense medicines and give advice about dose and side effects
Go to the cancer type that you may be affected by to learn more about the health professionals you may see.
Prof Sarah Lewis, Faculty of Medicine and Health, The University of Sydney, NSW; Kevin Bloom, Senior Social Worker, Haematology and Bone Marrow Transplant, Royal North Shore Hospital, NSW; Danielle Curnoe, Consumer; Alana Fitzgibbon, Clinical Nurse Consultant – Gastro-Intestinal Cancers, Cancer Services, Royal Hobart Hospital, TAS; Hall & Wilcox (law firm); Johanna Jordaan, Consumer; Dr Deme Karikios, Medical Oncologist, Nepean Cancer and Wellness Centre, Nepean Hospital, NSW; Melissa Lawrie, Breast Cancer Clinical Nurse, Cancer Services, Gold Coast Hospital and Health Service, QLD; Jacqueline Lesage, Consumer Reviewer, Cancer Voices NSW; McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer, VIC; Louise Pellerade, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Andrew Potter, Consumer; Siân Slade, PhD Candidate, Nossal Institute for Global Health and Non-Executive Director (health, disability sectors), VIC; Paula Watt, Clinical Psychologist, WOMEN Centre, WA.
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