There are many doctors and other healthcare professionals who diagnose and treat lung cancer patients. Together, they make up the comprehensive healthcare team that works with a patient over the course of care to develop the best treatment plan.1,2,3
Below are descriptions of some types of doctors and other healthcare professionals who might be involved in caring for a person with lung cancer. This list does not include all those who might help in a patient's care; each patient's lung cancer and overall health circumstances are unique.
Diagnostic radiologists: 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. 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.
Family practitioners and internists: primary care doctors who are often the first to suspect or find the cancer. They can work together with the other members of the healthcare team to help coordinate your care.
Interventional radiologists: use imaging tests to guide them as they perform miminally invasive procedures, such as biopsies.
Oncologists: specialize in treating cancer. There are three main types of oncologists:
- Medical oncologists treat cancer by using drugs, 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. A medical oncologist may also refer a patient 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.
Palliative care doctors: work with other healthcare team members to prevent and treat any symptoms or side effects that result from the cancer itself and the cancer treatment. They improve the patient's quality of life.
Pathologists: 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. The pathologist diagnoses the type of cancer and how advanced it is. A patient might never meet the pathologist, but the pathologist will be consulting with the other doctors on the healthcare team.
Pulmonologists: specialize in diagnosing and treating lung diseases. They can also treat breathing problems caused by cancer or its treatment.
Thoracic surgeons (chest surgeons): 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.
Other healthcare professionals
Oncology nurses: specialize in treating and caring for cancer patients. 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 healthcare system.
Radiation therapists: administer radiation treatments.
Registered dieticians: specialize 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.
Rehabilitation specialists: including physical therapists, speech therapists, occupational therapists, and recreational therapists, help patients live as independently as possible.
Respiratory therapists: evaluate and treat patients who have breathing problems or other lung disorders.
Social workers: are trained to talk with patients and their families about emotional or physical needs and to find them support services.
Common now at academic cancer centers and increasingly so at community cancer centers are tumor boards. A tumor board is a multidisciplinary team of doctors and other healthcare professionals. The tumor board meets at regular intervals, either in person or virtually, to analyze and discuss individual patients' cases from their different perspectives before deciding together on the best treatment plan as well as the best way to put it into place. A patient may check whether their lung cancer has been reviewed by a tumor board and request that a tumor review board be done if it has not.4
Updated February 16, 2021
- 1ABMS Guide to Medical Specialties. American Board of Medical Specialties. https://www.abms.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/ABMS-Guide-to-Medical-Specialties-2020.pdf. Updated November 2020. Accessed February 16, 2021.
- The Oncology Team. Cancer.Net website. https://www.cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/cancer-basics/cancer-care-team/oncology-team. Approved August 2020. Accessed February 16, 2021.
- Types of Oncololgists. Cancer.net website. https://www.cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/cancer-basics/cancer-care-team/types-oncologists. Approved March 2018. Accessed February 16, 2021.
- What Is a Tumor Board? An Expert Q&A. Cancer.Net website. https://www.cancer.net/blog/2017-07/what-tumor-board-expert-qa. Posted July 12, 2017. Accessed February 16, 2021.