People who are diagnosed with blood cancer have a team of doctors, nurses, and technicians who work together to manage their cancer. Each has a unique and important role in their care.
This general cancer doctor specializes in treating cancer with chemotherapy and other medications. He may have diagnosed the cancer, or you may have been referred to him after the diagnosis. An oncologist’s role in cancer treatment is to explain your diagnosis to you, walk you through all your treatment options, and help manage the side effects of your treatments.
If a medical oncologist is your primary cancer doctor, he’ll be the point person for all the other specialists on your team.
This is a cancer doctor who specializes in treating people with blood cancer. Because blood cancers aren’t very common and they’re treated differently from many solid tumors, people who have blood cancer often choose to see these specialists for their treatment.
If a hematologist-oncologist, rather than a medical oncologist, is your primary cancer doctor, she’ll be the point person for your overall care. If you get most of your care from a medical oncologist, they’ll likely work with a hematologist as well.
These doctors read the results of any blood tests or biopsies you get to figure out what type of cancer you have and what stage it’s in. The tests will show how quickly cancer cells are dividing, and whether they’re spreading. They also may use new technologies to find particular genes or proteins that are causing your cancer.
Samples of your blood or tumors will likely be sent to a pathologist throughout your treatment to find out if certain therapies or drugs are working well.
This member of the team looks at your imaging tests to find out if you have blood cancer. During your treatment, they may be involved in reading scans of your body to see if your cancer is affecting your lymph nodes, bone marrow, or any organs.
If your doctor recommends radiation as part of your treatment, you’ll see this type of specialist. They will talk with you to figure out the best approach for your particular case, and then deliver the radiation.
You’ll work with this specialist if your doctor recommends a closer look at a sample of tissue or fluid, called a biopsy. This might include a bone marrow biopsy or lymph node biopsies.
You also might need a surgeon if a type of leukemia has made your spleen grow so large that it needs to be taken out.
Nurses and nurse practitioners who specialize in cancer care will help your team of doctors manage your treatment and keep an eye on your health. Oncology nurses may keep track of your lab and pathology reports, give you medications, answer questions you have, and talk with doctors on your behalf.
Licensed nutritionists or dietitians will help you manage any eating problems related to your cancer and cancer treatment. A well-rounded diet, along with limiting alcohol, caffeine, and sugary drinks, can help support your immune system and ease the side effects of your treatments.
Psychologist or Psychiatrist
These specialists may help you deal with the stress of a cancer diagnosis, and work with you to make a plan for meeting those challenges.
Palliative Care and Social Support
Palliative care doctors and nurses work with people who have cancer to make sure they have the best quality of life possible. The palliative care team -- along with other social work professionals -- can arrange home care, hospice care, or nursing home stays. They also help caregivers get the support they need and help with issues related to finances, insurance, and employment.
Your health care team may include other types of doctors who can help manage the side effects of your treatment. Although cancer treatments aim to target cancer cells, they’re harsh on other cells that divide fast, including hair follicles and the cells that line your digestive tract. You may work with a gastroenterologist, who specializes in the digestive tract, or nephrologist, who specializes in the kidneys.
Complementary or Integrative Medicine Practitioner
These therapies can boost your well-being without affecting your treatment. They can include massage, acupuncture, yoga, meditation, and art or music therapy. Your doctor or treatment center may refer you to some of these, and some types may be covered by your insurance. It’s important to find practitioners who have experience working with cancer treatments.