Your healthcare team
Your healthcare team plans and gives treatment, helps you manage side effects, and provides emotional and practical support to you and your family. Some people on your healthcare team are medical professionals that have training in their speciality areas of medicine. Other healthcare team members are specialists who help to support, educate and advocate for you.
It’s important to know who is on your healthcare team and what they do. Depending on your situation, your healthcare team may have some or all of these members. You may have other team members that aren’t listed here.
A dietitian works with you to help you maintain good nutrition during and after treatment. They give advice and information about nutrition tailored to your needs. They can help you manage problems including loss of appetite, taste changes and weight loss or weight gain.
Your family doctor or general practitioner (GP) plays an important part in your general healthcare before, during and after cancer treatments. Your family doctor may also be responsible for follow-up after you have finished cancer treatment.
An occupational therapist helps you prevent and live with illness, injury and disability. They assess, treat and help you manage physical, mental and cognitive problems related to the cancer or cancer treatment. They are trained to assess the layout of your home, school or workplace and suggest ways to improve your mobility and help you cope with daily activities.
An oncologist is a medical doctor who specializes in treating cancer. There are different types of oncologists.
- A medical oncologist treats cancer using drugs and is often the main doctor for someone with cancer. They are often the ones that will make a cancer diagnosis based on the results of tests that you had. Your medical oncologist will also help you manage side effects from your chemotherapy treatments.
- A radiation oncologist treats cancer using radiation and will develop your radiation therapy treatment plan.
- A surgical oncologist does biopsies and surgeries to diagnose and treat cancer.
An oncology nurse specializes in caring for people with cancer. They may work in any area of cancer treatment and care. Your oncology nurse can coordinate your care and help you communicate with different members of your healthcare team. They will look at your lab test results and explain them to you. Oncology nurses give chemotherapy treatments and watch your reactions to treatment. Your oncology nurse can help you manage side effects of your treatments and provide supportive care.
An ostomy therapist helps you learn to care for and live with an ostomy. An ostomy is a surgical procedure to create an opening from an area inside the body to the outside. People with cancer may need an ostomy if an opening or passage in the body is blocked by a tumour or changed by cancer treatment. A tracheostomy, a colostomy and a urostomy are examples of an ostomy.
A patient advocate helps you communicate or work better with others involved in your care, such as doctors, nurses or social workers. A patient advocate is sometimes called a client advocate.
A patient navigator acts as a link between you and the healthcare system. They may coordinate services and address a variety of physical, social, emotional and practical needs. A patient navigator is sometimes called a nurse navigator.
A pharmacist prepares cancer drugs and other medicines and explains how they work. A pharmacist will tell you how often to take your drugs. They also explain any care you need to take such as eating certain foods or things to avoid while taking a drug. A pharmacist also tells you about drug side effects and how to deal with them.
A physiatrist treats illnesses and injuries that affect how you move and function. They may also manage your pain.
Physiotherapists, or physical therapists, help you maintain or restore a level of fitness through strength and endurance exercises. They teach exercises and physical activities to keep muscles strong and flexible or restore strength and movement.
A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating mental illness. They prescribe drugs to help with anxiety or depression.
A psychologist helps you and your family understand, manage and cope with feelings, emotions, thoughts, worries and behaviours. They teach you how to manage pain, stress or anxiety.
A radiation therapist helps a radiation oncologist plan and deliver your radiation treatment. They can also help you manage the side effects from radiation therapy.
A recreational therapist can help you learn how to manage stress, anxiety and depression through games, exercise, arts, crafts and music.
A rehabilitation nurse helps people with a disability or injury recover their physical function. They can help you be more independent and manage possible problems after cancer treatment. They can also help you adjust to changes in your environment or lifestyle.
A social worker can help you and your family cope with social and emotional concerns caused by cancer. This could include helping families look for extra support for money problems due to cancer. Social workers can also provide counselling to help people cope with the emotional aspects of living with cancer.
A speech-language pathologist (also called a speech therapist) helps people cope with problems that affect communication – for example, problems with speech, language, swallowing and voice, and flexibility in your face and mouth muscles. They may also help with memory, attention and problem solving (cognitive aspects of communication). You may see a speech-language pathologist after treatment for cancer that affects the head, mouth or neck.
Spiritual care worker
A spiritual care worker offers support and prayer according to your spiritual and religious needs. They can help you work through feelings of guilt, worries about death, and conflict between your faith and your diagnosis.
Great progress has been made
Some cancers, such as thyroid and testicular, have survival rates of over 90%. Other cancers, such as pancreatic, brain and esophageal, continue to have very low survival rates.