Your Medical Team

There are a number of doctors and other medical professionals who diagnose and treat people with lung cancer. Together, they make up the comprehensive medical or health care team that a patient sees over the course of his or her care.

Your health care team can describe your treatment options, the expected results of each option, and the possible side effects. You and your health care team can work together to develop a treatment plan.

Having an expert team on your side can help you get the best treatment for your type of lung cancer and for any side effects resulting from the treatment. Here are general descriptions of the different types of doctors that a patient may see:

Family practitioners and internists are doctors who have completed a residency in family medicine or internal medicine. They are often the first to find your cancer. They can work together with the specialists and subspecialists to help coordinate your care.

Pulmonologists (also called "pulmonary specialists") are doctors who specialize in diagnosing and treating lung diseases. They can also treat breathing problems caused by cancer or its treatment.

Pathologists are doctors who specialize in identifying diseases. They use a microscope to examine the tissue sample taken during a biopsyThe removal of cells or tissues for examination by a pathologist. From this exam, the pathologist will diagnose the type of cancer and how advanced it is. You may never meet your pathologist, but he or she will consult with other doctors on your team.

Thoracic surgeons (chest surgeons) are doctors who specialize in surgery on the lungs and other organs inside the chest. A thoracic surgeon can treat cancers of the lung, esophagus, and chest wall. Some thoracic surgeons also have special training in surgical oncology.

Oncologists are doctors who specialize in treating cancer. There are three main types of oncologists: 

  • Medical oncologists treat cancer by using medicines, such as chemotherapyTreatment with drugs that kill cancer cells or targeted therapyA type of treatment that uses drugs to identify and attack specific types of cancer cells with less harm to normal cells. Your medical oncologist may also refer you to other specialists for treatment.
  • Radiation oncologists use X-rays and other types of radiation therapyThe use of high-energy radiation from x-rays, gamma rays, neutrons, protons, and other sources to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors to treat cancer.
  • Surgical oncologists use surgery to diagnose and treat cancer. They can do biopsies and remove tumorsAn abnormal mass of tissue that results when cells divide more than they should or do not die when they should. A thoracic surgical oncologist specializes in surgeries on lung tumors and other tumors found inside the chest.

Diagnostic radiologists are doctors who specialize in diagnosing disease by using imaging tests, such as X-rayA type of radiation used to diagnose diseases by making pictures of the inside of the body, MRIA scan that provides detailed pictures of areas inside the body by using radio waves and strong magnets that a computer translates into an image, CT scanA procedure that uses a computer linked to an X-ray machine to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body. The pictures are taken from different angles and are used to create three-dimensional (3-D) views of tissues and organs, and ultrasoundA procedure that uses high-energy sound waves to look at tissues and organs inside the body. Interventional radiologists may also use imaging tests to guide them as they perform biopsies. A diagnostic radiologist may specialize in radiation oncology, to diagnose cancerous growths specifically. Having a radiologist with experience in diagnosing lung cancer can improve the accuracy of diagnosis.

In addition to physicians, your medical team may consist of some or all of these health care professionals:

Oncology nurses specialize in treating and caring for people who have cancer. They are often a major point of contact for patients and their families.

Patient navigators are trained, culturally sensitive health care workers who provide support and guidance throughout the cancer care continuum. They help people "navigate" through the maze of doctors' offices, clinics, hospitals, outpatient centers, insurance and payment systems, patient-support organizations, and other components of the health care system.

Respiratory therapists are trained to evaluate and treat people who have breathing problems or other lung disorders.

Social workers are trained to talk with people and their families about emotional or physical needs, and to find them support services.

Registered dieticians have special training in the use of diet and nutrition to keep the body healthy. A registered dietitian may help the medical team improve the nutritional health of a patient.


Resources

ABMS Guide to Physician Specialties

Center to Reduce Health Disparities: Patient Navigation Program

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