Finding Your Medical Team

Different cancers are treated in different ways. Your doctor may recommend treatment of your cancer with combinations of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, biological therapy, laser therapy, or bone-marrow transplantation.

To help you get the best possible care for your cancer, it’s important to find a doctor and treatment facility that have experience and expertise in treating the kind of cancer you have, and that your cancer specialists work together as a team to treat you.

Once you are diagnosed with cancer, you will be treated best by a team of cancer specialists representing two, three or more of the specialties described in the chart below. The team approach combines the wisdom, training and experience unique to each cancer specialist and permits the specialists to work together as one consulting group. In many cases, these specialists work closely together at specialized treatment centers (for example, a breast cancer treatment center) or through tumor boards at their hospital that help in developing a multidisciplinary treatment plan.

Types of Cancer Specialists

Below is a description of the various types of specialists who treat cancer patients:

Cancer specialists What they do Types of subspecialists
Surgical oncologists
These doctors are surgeons who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of patients using surgery to remove cancers and stage tumors.
A surgical oncologist may be a general surgical oncologist, gynecologic surgical oncologist, thoracic surgical oncologist, urologic surgical oncologist or other type of surgical oncologist specializing in a particular area of the body or type of cancer. General surgeons who devote the majority of their practice to cancer may also consider themselves surgical oncologists.
Gynecologic oncologists
These doctors are obstetricians/gynecologists who diagnose and treat women with cancer of the reproductive organs. Gynecologic oncologists must acquire surgical skills to stage and surgically remove tumors as well as techniques to provide chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Gynecologic oncologists may subspecialize in treating specific types of cancers of the reproductive tract, such as ovarian, uterine, endometrial or cervical cancers.
Medical oncologists
These doctors are trained in internal medicine and treat cancer patients using chemotherapy, hormone therapy, immunotherapies or other treatments. They also manage the patient’s course of treatment, especially when the cancer is in advanced stages. Medical oncologists may offer consultation services to other physicians treating cancer patients or refer patients to other specialists.
Medical oncologists may be subspecialized by type of patient or area of the body, such as breast medical oncologists for women, pediatric medical oncologists for children, or gastrointestinal medical oncologists for cancers of the digestive tract. Some are also trained in hematology and specialize in the treatment of leukemias and lymphomas and the use of bone-marrow transplantation as a treatment for these types of cancer.
Radiation oncologists
These doctors are radiologists who specialize in treating cancer patients using complex radiologic imaging systems to administer various types of radiation treatment. They work closely with surgical and medical oncologists and other physicians who treat cancer patients to help coordinate the overall care of patients.
Radiation oncologists may subspecialize in treating specific types of cancer or in providing specific types of therapy. The most common fields of subspecialization are prostate radiation oncology, breast radiation oncology and brachytherapy (placing radioactive material directly in a tumor).
Oncology nurses, oncology social workers and other health care professionals
These professionals may be registered nurses, clinical nurse specialists, advanced practice nurses, radiation therapists, chemotherapy nurses, oncology social workers, case managers, educators or consultants dedicated to patient care, education and research in cancer.
Subspecialists may include gynecologic nurse oncologists and other specialists in specific types of cancer or treatments.