Treating breast cancer involves the expertise of various health professionals.
Your health care team may include some of the following healthcare professionals:
Family or primary health care doctor: If you are having difficulty making decisions about treatment or coping with your diagnosis your family doctor can be a good resource, as he/she likely knows you well. You should ensure that your family doctor is advised of your treatment plan. Your family doctor will also be involved in your follow-up after breast cancer treatment
Surgeon: This is a doctor who is skilled in performing surgery to treat breast cancer. Your surgeon will review all your tests and surgical options with you
Medical oncologist: This is a doctor who specializes in treating cancer with drug therapy and can recommend a treatment plan for you. Generally you will see a medical oncologist after you have had your surgery to determine whether you will benefit from drug therapy
Radiation oncologist: This is a doctor who specializes in planning and treating cancer with radiation. You will see a radiation oncologist after your surgery if it is determined that you would benefit from radiation therapy
Other health care professionals that may be on your team include:
Plastic surgeon: If you choose to have breast reconstruction after a mastectomy, a surgeon skilled in rebuilding the shape of the breast will do this
Oncology nurse: This is a registered nurse who specializes in providing care for cancer patients and their families during diagnosis and treatment. You will most likely have an oncology nurse on your team if you will be receiving chemotherapy
Social worker: In many hospitals and cancer centers, a social worker may be available to help you with non-medical challenges such as navigating the health care system and accessing support resources (financial assistance, home care, etc.)
Patient navigator: A patient navigator is a health care professional who helps guide you through the cancer journey
Pharmacist: A pharmacist will be responsible for preparing the drugs you may need to take and can answer questions you may have about them
Dietician: In some hospitals and cancer centers, a dietician may available to help ensure that you are eating well before, during and after your treatment. A dietician can develop a nutritional plan that is appropriate for you and recommend foods that are good for when you are not feeling well
Ensuring good communication with your team
You are a key member of your health care team. Taking an active role in your treatment is important to make sure you get the support and care you need, and involves asking questions and getting answers. Understanding your diagnosis and treatment options will help you better communicate with the members of your team and make informed decisions.
Medical appointments can be stressful. Here are some things you can do to prepare so you get the most out of each appointment and ensure effective communication with members of your health team.
- Bring a family member or friend with you to provide emotional support and to record information. Your support person can take notes for you so you can concentrate on what is being discussed. Recording the appointment with a voice recorder is another option, if your doctor is okay with this
- Prepare a list of questions ahead of time. Remember, there is no such thing as a stupid question! Call Willow if you need help creating this list – we can suggest questions that you may want to ask
- If you are being told something that you find unclear or confusing, do not hesitate to ask for clarification or ask for it to be told to you with simpler terms
- You may find it helpful to restate to your doctor what you’ve heard to confirm that you understand what was being said
- Find out whom you can contact, by phone or email, between appointments if you have further questions, need clarification or have concerns
Links to more information