Decoding Your Doctors: Who Does What

Because oncologists and other specialists work together to treat cancer, you'll be meeting several oncology doctors. Each specialist on your healthcare team is uniquely qualified to care for you. Some of the people you'll be meeting will be with you during the diagnostic phase. And others will be with you throughout the entire time of your cancer treatment.


Radiation oncologist:

Treats cancer with powerful energy beams, called radiation. This therapy is available in several forms, for both inside and outside of the body

Thoracic surgeon:

Treats chest and lung diseases with surgery

Pulmonologist:

Understands and treats diseases of the lungs

Medical oncologist:

Diagnoses and treats cancer with medicine, including chemotherapy

Psychiatrist or psychologist:

Treats mental health issues, such as feelings of anxiety, depression, and may prescribe medication if needed

You've got more resources besides your doctors. Other important members of your healthcare team may include:

Nurse practitioners:

Nurses with an advanced degree and specially certified, nurse practitioners work closely with doctors and take an important role in caring for people with serious illnesses

Physician assistants (PAs):

Specially trained to help doctors, PAs can do everything from doing physical exams to diagnosing to helping with surgery

Infusion nurse:

Nurse who is specially trained to give medicine in liquid form into your bloodstream through a vein

Navigators (sometimes called a patient or nurse navigator):

Help people make their way through the healthcare system as they are being treated for lung cancer, from start to finish

Respiratory therapist:

Uses techniques and treatments to help improve breathing

Nutritionists or Dieticians:

Help people with nutrition, including dealing with weight loss or gain. Has expertise about the special diet recommended for people with cancer

Physical therapist:

Helps people with strength and movement throughout treatment

Case worker:

Helps with everything from home health care and transportation to treatment plans to helping families deal with serious illnesses

You can also expect support from other specialists in cancer care. These include social workers and home health care assistants, among others. You'll be spending a lot of time with your support team and they will be very important as you're fighting cancer. Remember—they all want to help you as much as they can.