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Who's who in cancer care

If you have cancer, you’re likely to meet many different doctors and health professionals during your care. They will each have a different expertise in cancer and together can provide the best treatment for you.

We’ve put together information about some of the people who may be involved in your care. We’ve listed these in order of people you’re most likely to meet.

Details

  • General practitioner (GP) General practitioner (GP)

    A GP is a doctor trained to provide medical care for a broad range of health problems, rather than one specific area. You may already be familiar with your GP as someone you see if you have concerns about your general health. So they’ll probably be the person you go to first if you have any symptoms that you want to get checked.

    Your GP may refer you to a specialist for tests and treatment. If you’re found to have cancer, they will be kept up-to-date with how your treatment is going. They may also be involved in managing any general medical problems you have during your cancer treatment. And afterwards, your GP can help to provide support for you and your family. They will continue to be your main contact for advice about your general health.

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  • Cancer nurse specialist Cancer nurse specialist

    A cancer nurse specialist is your main point of contact during and after your cancer treatment. They are nurses with in-depth knowledge in the specific area of cancer care.

    A cancer nurse specialist will help to coordinate your care and provide you with practical support and information during and after your treatment. This may include details about your treatment, advice on how to manage any side-effects and guidance on lifestyle and financial support. You’ll probably see your nurse on a regular basis during your care and they will work side-by-side with your cancer doctors. If you have any questions about your treatment, ask your cancer nurse.

  • Oncologist Oncologist

    An oncologist is a doctor who specialises in cancer care and has advanced knowledge and understanding of cancer treatments. Oncologists treat cancer using methods other than surgery, such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy, hormone therapy or biological therapies.

    A clinical oncologist (also known as a radiotherapist) mainly specialises in the treatment of cancer using radiotherapy but may be trained in using chemotherapy too. A medical oncologist specialises in the treatment of cancer using medicines, such as chemotherapy. They will have more in-depth knowledge of chemotherapy medicines that are available, as well as any clinical trials that are testing new medicines.

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  • Radiographer Radiographer

    A radiographer is a health professional who is trained to carry out imaging procedures, such as X-rays, that can show the inside of your body. There are two main types of radiographer.

    Diagnostic radiographer

    A diagnostic radiographer uses techniques such as X-ray, MRI and CT scans, to take images. These are used to diagnose medical conditions, such as cancer. You may also have X-rays or scans during and after your treatment to check your cancer and to monitor how well your treatment is working.

    Therapeutic radiographer

    A therapeutic radiographer operates the machine that delivers your radiotherapy treatment. You’ll meet your radiographer regularly and they can give you information and support. They work closely with your oncologist and physicist (see below) to ensure your radiotherapy treatment goes smoothly.

  • Surgeon Surgeon

    A surgeon is a doctor who specialises in carrying out operations to treat an injury or condition. Surgeons have different specialities, and when treating cancer different surgeons will specialise in operating on specific parts of the body. For example, a breast surgeon will do operations for breast cancer and a urologist will do operations for prostate cancer. Different surgeons may also specialise in particular surgical techniques.

  • Dietitian Dietitian

    A dietitian can give you advice on healthy eating especially if you’re having trouble eating and drinking because of your cancer treatment. They can recommend specific food and drinks, including snacks and meal ideas, to make sure you’re getting all the essential calories and nutrients you need.

  • Physiotherapist Physiotherapist

    A physiotherapist is a health professional who specialises in maintaining and improving movement and mobility. You may see a physiotherapist to regain your independence and fitness after you have treatment for cancer. They may also help you if you have breathing difficulties or tiredness. Your physiotherapist will also help if you feel weak or are having any problems moving particular areas of your body. See our information on physiotherapy to find out more.

  • Psychologist or counsellor Psychologist or counsellor

    A psychologist is a health professional who specialises in emotional and behavioural problems; a counsellor is a health professional who also provides emotional support. You may wish to talk to a psychologist or counsellor about how you’re feeling. They may be able to suggest ways to overcome some of the psychological challenges that come with cancer, such as stress or depression. Talking to someone about how you feel may help you develop a better understanding of cancer and how you feel about it. It may also help you to develop ways to cope with the illness.

  • Pharmacist Pharmacist

    A pharmacist prepares and checks the type and dose of medicine that is prescribed to you. They can also advise you on how to take your medicine and the possible side-effects you may have.

  • Occupational therapist Occupational therapist

    An occupational therapist is a health professional who can give practical assistance to help you manage everyday activities and increase your independence. If you have cancer, this may help to improve your quality of life. For example, they may provide help if you have trouble moving around or doing tasks such as washing, dressing or cooking.

  • Histopathologist Histopathologist

    A histopathologist is a doctor who examines samples of tissue under a microscope to help diagnose a disease such as cancer.

  • Physicist Physicist

    A physicist is an expert in radiation who will help to plan your radiotherapy treatment. They work closely with your oncologist to work out the amount of radiation you need. They will also help to determine the best way for you to have the radiation and how long you need treatment from a particular machine for. A physicist will help to make sure your radiotherapy equipment is accurate and safe.

  • Resources Resources

    Further information

    Sources

    • Metastatic malignant disease of unknown primary origin. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), July 2010. www.nice.org.uk
    • Being a general practitioner. Royal College of General Practitioners. www.rcgp.org.uk, published 7 May 2014
    • Quality in nursing. Excellence in cancer care: the contribution of the clinical nurse specialist. National Cancer Action Team. www.cancernurse.eu, published October 2010
    • Medical oncology. Medical Careers. www.medicalcareers.nhs.uk, accessed 27 August 2014
    • Medical oncology. Royal College of Physicians. www.rcplondon.ac.uk, accessed 27 August 2014
    • A career in radiography. Society of Radiographers. www.sor.org, accessed 27 August 2014
    • Who’s who. Royal College of Surgeons of England. www.rcseng.ac.uk, accessed 27 August 2014
    • Urology is... British Association of Urological Surgeons. www.baus.org.uk, accessed 11 November 2014
    • Patient information. Association of Breast Surgery. www.associationofbreastsurgery.org.uk, accessed 11 November 2014
    • Dietitian, nutritionist, nutritional therapist or diet expert? British Dietetic Association. www.bda.uk.com, published 2014
    • Frequently asked questions. British Dietetic Association. www.bda.uk.com, accessed 27 August 2014
    • Cancer. Chartered Society of Physiotherapy. www.csp.org.uk, accessed 27 August 2014
    • Working as a counsellor. NHS Careers. www.nhscareers.nhs.uk, accessed 27 August 2014
    • Psychologist. NHS Careers. www.nhscareers.nhs.uk, accessed 27 August 2014
    • What can therapy help with? British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. www.itsgoodtotalk.org.uk, accessed 27 August 2014
    • How can psychology help you. British Psychological Society. www.bps.org.uk, accessed 27 August 2014
    • About pharmacy. Royal Pharmaceutical Society. www.rpharms.com, accessed 27 August 2014
    • What is occupational therapy? British Association of Occupational Therapists and College of Occupational Therapists. www.cot.co.uk, accessed 27 August 2014
    • NCI dictionary of cancer terms. National Cancer Institute. www.cancer.gov, accessed 26 August 2014
    • Histopathology. The Royal College of Pathologists. www.rcpath.org, accessed 26 August 2014
    • Medical physicist. American Association of Physicists in Medicine. www.aapm.org, accessed 28 August 2014
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