If you’re a recently diagnosed mesothelioma patient, then you’re likely about to begin treatment. This cancer is aggressive, which means urgency is essential to defeating this disease.
Treatment could involve surgery, chemotherapy, radiation or one of many emerging methods tested in clinical trials. Undergoing any singular treatment, or a combination of them, means you’re going to meet a lot of medical professionals during your treatment journey. All of them have one goal: to help you get the care needed to kill this cancer.
However, learning the role of each person on your treatment team can be challenging. When describing each member, doctors may use jargon that flies far over your and other patients’ heads. Plus, you’ve just been diagnosed. Not many patients can process a bevy of medical information while the news of their diagnosis is still fresh in their minds.
We at Mesothelioma Guide have listed each member of your mesothelioma treatment team and described their roles and how they’ll help you beat this cancer.
The medical oncologist is the primary care provider for cancer patients like yourself. The medical oncologist is a doctor with specialized training in diagnosing and treating adults using chemotherapy and other targeted therapy methods. This role is also essential for providing you emotional support and coordinating with other specialists on your treatment team.
A surgical oncologist is a doctor who specializes in cancer surgeries. Mesothelioma surgical oncologists are often defined more specifically as:
- Thoracic surgeons (for pleural mesothelioma)
- Peritoneal surgeons (for peritoneal mesothelioma)
- Cardiac surgeons (for pericardial mesothelioma)
A mesothelioma surgical oncologist should have robust experience in performing one or multiple of the primary surgeries for this disease. If you’re undergoing a pleurectomy with decortication (pleural mesothelioma surgery), extrapleural pneumonectomy (pleural mesothelioma surgery) or cytoreduction (peritoneal mesothelioma surgery), then you’ll have a surgical oncologist.
An anesthesiologist is a doctor who places patients in a state of unconsciousness for their surgery. Since anesthesia is primarily used for operation, this role is limited to perioperative care. Anesthesiologists develop an anesthetic plan and administer the anesthesia drugs to the patient.
You’ll likely never meet your pathologist. This is a behind-the-scenes role and usually has concluded if you’re already diagnosed with mesothelioma. Pathologists are doctors who specialize in examining tissue or fluid samples retrieved during biopsies. This role is limited to the mesothelioma diagnostic process.
A radiologist is a doctor who reads and interprets imaging scans. Basically, this role examines your X-rays, computed tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans and positron emission tomography (PET) scans throughout your treatment plan. Doing so provides a visual of your mesothelioma and shows your team how your disease is responding to treatment.
A radiation oncologist is a doctor who administers radiation or the tumor treating fields device to the patient. Not all mesothelioma patients will undergo this form of care, so you may not have this member on your team.
Radiation often is an adjuvant treatment — meaning it’s used after the primary form (surgery or chemotherapy) — so you might not meet your radiation oncologist until the end of your plan.
Nurse Practitioner/Physician Assistant
A nurse practitioner/physician assistant is a registered nurse or medical professional who has received additional education and clinical training. They work closely with a specific member(s) of the treatment team and act as a communication vessel between different members.
Your nurse practitioner/physician assistant will see you during stages of your treatment and collaborate with your medical oncologist, surgeon and radiation therapist. They also have full prescriptive authority to help you manage pain and maintain your quality of life.
A fellow is a doctor who’s in training to specialize in one of the previously stated roles (specifically, either medical oncologist, surgical oncologist or radiation oncologist). As a mesothelioma patient, you may first meet with a fellow. This person will then report to the attending doctor, who’s responsible for their training.
Many fellows are training under mesothelioma specialists to learn how to diagnose and treat mesothelioma — and potentially specialize in doing so.
The research nurse role is not part of every patient’s team. This person is a nurse who protects study participants and ensures that research projects follow their predetermined plan. Whether you have a research nurse on your treatment team depends on where you receive treatment or if you join a clinical trial.
The program navigator is possibly your main point of contact during your mesothelioma treatment journey. For instance, the program navigator at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, manages the surgery schedule, preoperative care and postoperative care for the patient.
Now that you know the members of your treatment team, you’ll better understand why each role is vital to beating this cancer. We at Mesothelioma Guide can help you find a cancer center with the best medical oncologists, surgeons, radiation oncologists, pathologists and more. Reach out to our patient advocate and registered nurse, Karen Ritter, at firstname.lastname@example.org for help in finding the right mesothelioma hospital.
- Definition of Medical Oncologist. National Cancer Institute. Retrieved from: https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/medical-oncologist. Accessed: 12/27/19.
- Anesthesia. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Retrieved from: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/treatment-tests-and-therapies/types-of-anesthesia-and-your-anesthesiologist. Accessed: 12/27/19.
- The Pathologist. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Retrieved from: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/treatment-tests-and-therapies/the-pathologist. Accessed: 12/27/19.
- What Is a Radiologist?. American College of Radiology. Retrieved from: https://www.acr.org/Practice-Management-Quality-Informatics/Practice-Toolkit/Patient-Resources/About-Radiology. Accessed: 12/27/19.
- Harvey Pass, MD, Mary Hesdorffer, NP, Sarah Elizabeth Lake, Sarah Ann Lake. (2014). 100 Questions & Answers. Jones & Bartlett Learning.
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