If you have been recently diagnosed with a tumor mass chances are you will meet a dizzying array of people who are going to be involved with your treatment. This mAss kicking team can be overwhelming, so it is good to know who the different players are and how they can help you. This article is intended to be a very broad overview of the different people you will meet. Don’t forget to ask your doctor if you see someone on here that you haven’t met yet but would want to!
Cancer/tumor treatment is the job of three different medical disciplines: surgical oncology, medical oncology, and radiation oncology.
Many cancer centers often have multidisciplinary tumor boards in which all of the specialists meet to discuss the different treatment options which are available.
The specific contribution that each of these physicians makes towards your treatment depends on a many different factors. The type of cancer/tumor, the location of the cancer/tumor, and the stage of the cancer are a few of the important elements in determining what treatments are applicable. For example, some early stage cancers are treated surgically, while later stages are treated with chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Some cancers are only treated with chemotherapy and others with only surgery. The decision for what treatment to pursue should be a decision that you actively participate in, since in some instances, multiple different treatment options exist. Make sure you know about all the available options!
Generally, the treatment team will have a dedicated oncology nurse who specializes in coordinating all the details of the treatment and subsequent follow up. This nurse is a critical part of your care and often is the interface between you and the treating physicians. Make sure you find out who this is and how to best contact them! Cancer nurses often have a ton of experience dealing with the little details of treatment and what to expect. They can definitely smooth out many bumps in the road and will likely be the easiest person to contact.
During and after treatment of cancer, there are many additional people to help get you through treatment and assist with subsequent rehabilitation. This includes a dietitian, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech language pathology. A dietitian can closely pay attention to your nutritional status and needs. This becomes especially important if chemotherapy or other aspects of treatment make it difficult to eat due to pain or lack of appetite. Physical therapists help rehabilitate general body movement and coordination when appropriate. Occupational therapists can work to help you deal with temporary or permanent changes from treatment that alter the way you perform day-to-day activities either related to work or just life in general. Speech language pathologists (also known as speech therapists or swallowing therapists) assist when cancer treatment impairs functions related to voice, speaking, or eating. They most often deal with cancers involving the brain, head, or neck.
Cancer/tumor treatment is undoubtedly emotionally difficult. Many patients find it helpful to have someone who is very experienced in dealing with many of the associated thoughts and feelings that go along with cancer/tumor treatment. Don’t hesitate to seek out a psychologist, counselor, or social worker who has experience with cancer patients. In addition, social workers are very valuable in coordinating resources outside of the hospital and strengthening your social support network. Your support system will include family and friends, but don’t forget that cancer support groups exist to help connect you with people who have walked or are walking the same path.
Ultimately, there needs to be one physician that can look after you as a whole, and not just as a cancer patient. This is your primary care physician (PCP) or family physician . Whether it is making sure that you are healthy enough to undergo surgery or following up on an imaging study, a good PCP will be your quarterback and should be actively involved in plugging you in to the right people and getting new people to join your mAss kicking team. Be very blunt with them and make sure they are up for the task! Some may feel more comfortable with cancer care than others and some have more experience than others.
Finally, the most important person on your team is you. Cancer/tumor treatment does not need to happen passively. Ask questions, be aware of the available treatment options, ask for help when you think you’ll need it, and keep records of everything along the way. You are the team captain, so make sure that you feel in control and are calling all the shots!
Vasu Divi, MD, Oncologist
This website is designed to provide additional information to patients and their loved ones when faced with intimidating diagnoses. A physician or medical professional should be consulted before making any health related decisions. We serve as a portal for information so that an informed and efficient decision can be concluded by all parties involved. The creators of this site are not responsible or liable, directly or indirectly, for any form of damages whatsoever resulting from the use (or misuse) of information contained in or implied by the content of this website. The purpose of the mAss Kickers is to empower people with knowledge, not to specifically advise people how to address each unique situation.