Who can help?

Doctors, nurses and other health professionals care for you and can help you find your way through the health care system, from diagnosis through to treatment and recovery.

This section describes the roles of people who may be in your treatment team. Not all of them will be in the hospital or treatment centre, and they may have different titles depending on where you have treatment.

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Your specialists

Depending on the cancer type and treatment you have, several specialists may plan and manage your treatment, including:

  • a surgeon
  • a medical oncologist
  • a radiation oncologist
  • a haematologist
  • palliative care specialist. They can also answer any questions you have about your treatment. The doctors caring for you usually work as part of a multidisciplinary team (MDT).

Who can I ask questions?

You may think that your specialist is the only member of your treatment team who can answer your questions and address your concerns. It’s your right to ask your specialist questions, but there is often limited time in a consultation, so it is best to use that time to talk about your treatment.

Other members of your treatment team are often more accessible than your specialist, and they may be able to help you with questions and concerns more quickly. If you are treated in hospital, it may be helpful to talk to resident medical officers and registrars, who can ask your specialist for information.

Read more about your specialists

Cancer care coordinator or clinical nurse consultant

  • A senior specialist nurse
  • Monitors patients throughout their diagnosis and treatment, and works closely with specialists
  • Reliable source of information and support
  • May be cancer care coordinators for specific cancer types in large hospitals, while smaller hospitals may have general coordinators
  • In rural areas, cancer care coordinators may visit with the visiting oncologist
  • In hospitals that don’t have either a cancer care coordinator or a clinical nurse consultant, the nursing unit manager may have a similar role

Social worker

  • Primary point of contact for practical issues that affect life outside hospital, such as accommodation, transport, financial assistance, child care and home nursing care
  • May also provide emotional support and counselling
  • Ensure you can access the information and assistance that’s available in your local community, and will link you with people and services who are best able to meet your needs

Your general practitioner (GP)

  • When you are discharged from hospital, your treatment team will usually provide you with information to give to your GP, and your specialists should send test results to them
  • You can discuss treatment options with your GP, who can also arrange a second opinion if required
  • Role may vary depending on where you live – for example, rural patients may have much more to do with their GP than people in urban areas

Other health professionals

A range of health professionals can help you cope with the physical and emotional effects of cancer. These people include:

  • dietitians – specialise in diet and disease, and recommend an eating plan for you to follow during treatment and recovery
  • psychologists or counsellors – provide emotional support by listening to problems and offering strategies for dealing with them
  • physiotherapists – help you to move and exercise safely to regain strength, fitness and mobility
  • occupational therapists – offer equipment/aids and advice about getting back to your daily activities

Questions you may want to ask the surgeon or oncologist

A cancer diagnosis and treatment often means many medical appointments. Before visiting the doctor, take some time to prepare for the appointment.

  • Do you specialise in this type of surgery?
  • Have you treated a lot of people with this type of cancer?
  • Can I talk to someone who has had this surgery?
  • Do you work in a multidisciplinary team?
  • Which hospitals or treatment centres do you work or operate in?
  • Are you a member of the relevant section of a specialist college (e.g. for breast cancer, the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons breast section)?

This information was last reviewed in April 2016
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