Who’s on Your Blood Cancer Medical Team?

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.

Medical Oncologist

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.

Hematologist-Oncologist

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.

Pathologist

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.

Diagnostic Radiologist

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.

Radiation Oncologist

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. 

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General Surgeon

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.

Oncology Nurses

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.

Nutritionist

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.

Other Specialists

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.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on May 07, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

American Society of Hematology: “Blood Cancer.”

American Society for Clinical Oncology: “Types of Oncologists.”

Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center: “Leukemia Pathology.”

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: “The Role of Pathology.”

UCLA: “What Does a Radiation Oncologist Do?”

Cancer Treatment Centers of America: “The Role of the Oncology Nurse.”

University of Pittsburgh Medical Center: “Treatments for Blood Cancers.”

National Cancer Institute: “Palliative Care in Cancer.”

Leukemia and Lymphoma Society: “Food and Nutrition,” “Who’s Who on Your Healthcare Team,” “Managing side effects,” “Integrative Medicine and Complementary Therapies,” “Choosing a Blood Cancer Specialist,” “Lymphoma Diagnosis,” “Splenectomy.”

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