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Cancer Care Team Roles

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The NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines®) recommend that patients be managed at a high-volume center by an entire team of specialists with expertise in head and neck cancer.1Referenced with permission from The NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines®) for Head and Neck Cancers V.2.2016. © National Comprehensive Cancer Network, Inc 2016. All rights reserved. Accessed November 18, 2016. To view the most recent and complete version of the guideline, go online to www.nccn.org.

Your loved one may see some of these specialists only once or for a short duration, whereas other specialists will work with the patient during most of the cancer journey.

Who should be on this team? Whether some of the potential members are on the team depends on the individualized treatment plan; for example, if surgery is the only treatment required, then you and your loved one may need to select surgeons but not a radiation oncologist.

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Cancer care team roles

Some possible cancer care team members are listed below:

  • Cytopathologist: A health care professional who uses a microscope to evaluate cells to assist in the diagnosis of cancer.
  • Medical oncologist: A physician who specializes in several aspects of cancer care, such as diagnosis and the management of cancer (e.g., chemotherapy).4National Cancer Institute Website. Accessed at http://www.cancer.gov/dictionary on February 18, 2013. The medical oncologist may interact with you and your loved one at several points during the cancer journey.
  • Pathologist: A health care professional who uses laboratory analysis of tissues to assist in the diagnosis of cancer.4National Cancer Institute Website. Accessed at http://www.cancer.gov/dictionary on February 18, 2013.
  • Prosthodontist/dentist: Radiation can cause cavities. Therefore, your loved one may wish to consult a dentist before treatment.1Referenced with permission from The NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines®) for Head and Neck Cancers V.2.2016. © National Comprehensive Cancer Network, Inc 2016. All rights reserved. Accessed November 18, 2016. To view the most recent and complete version of the guideline, go online to www.nccn.org. He or she might need to consult a prosthodontist since teeth, parts of the jaw or other structures such as the nose or the ear may need to be removed to treat the cancer. A prosthodontist specializes in creating prostheses (synthetic replacement parts) to help restore aesthetics and functions that may have been affected by cancer removal surgery.4National Cancer Institute Website. Accessed at http://www.cancer.gov/dictionary on February 18, 2013.
  • Radiation oncologist: A physician who uses radiation therapy to treat cancer.1, Referenced with permission from The NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines®) for Head and Neck Cancers V.2.2016. © National Comprehensive Cancer Network, Inc 2016. All rights reserved. Accessed November 18, 2016. To view the most recent and complete version of the guideline, go online to www.nccn.org.4National Cancer Institute Website. Accessed at http://www.cancer.gov/dictionary on February 18, 2013.
  • Radiologist: A health care professional who specializes in evaluating images and will evaluate the extensiveness of the disease; this health care professional will also play a role in diagnosing the disease.1, Referenced with permission from The NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines®) for Head and Neck Cancers V.2.2016. © National Comprehensive Cancer Network, Inc 2016. All rights reserved. Accessed November 18, 2016. To view the most recent and complete version of the guideline, go online to www.nccn.org.4National Cancer Institute Website. Accessed at http://www.cancer.gov/dictionary on February 18, 2013.
  • Registered nutritionist: A registered nutritionist may assess the patient at baseline and periodically throughout the disease course. The nutritionist will provide strategies to deal with treatment side effects. In addition, the nutritionist may need to be consulted if a patient loses a significant amount of his or her ideal body weight.1Referenced with permission from The NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines®) for Head and Neck Cancers V.2.2016. © National Comprehensive Cancer Network, Inc 2016. All rights reserved. Accessed November 18, 2016. To view the most recent and complete version of the guideline, go online to www.nccn.org.
  • Social worker: Works with the patient and the patient’s caregivers to address their psychological well-being.4National Cancer Institute Website. Accessed at http://www.cancer.gov/dictionary on February 18, 2013. Other professionals who can assist with mental health issues include counselors, therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists or addiction specialists.
  • Speech pathologist: An evaluation of of swallowing and ability to speak may be recommended.1Referenced with permission from The NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines®) for Head and Neck Cancers V.2.2016. © National Comprehensive Cancer Network, Inc 2016. All rights reserved. Accessed November 18, 2016. To view the most recent and complete version of the guideline, go online to www.nccn.org. The speech pathologist will recommend strategies and exercises for during and after treatment to maintain or improve swallowing and speaking function.2Gaziano JE. Evaluation and management of oropharyngeal Dysphagia in head and neck cancer. Cancer Control. 2002 Sep-Oct;9(5):400-9. Many patients need rehabilitation with a speech pathologist post-treatment. Between 34 and 70 percent of head and neck patients will develop speech impairment during the course of their treatment.3Chen H-C, Evans KFK, Salgado CJ, Mardini S. Methods of voice reconstruction. Seminars in Plastic Surgery. 2010:227-232.
  • Surgeon: A physician or team of physicians who will physically cut the tumor out of the patient and/or reconstruct anatomic structures compromised from the removal of the tumor.1, Referenced with permission from The NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines®) for Head and Neck Cancers V.2.2016. © National Comprehensive Cancer Network, Inc 2016. All rights reserved. Accessed November 18, 2016. To view the most recent and complete version of the guideline, go online to www.nccn.org.4National Cancer Institute Website. Accessed at http://www.cancer.gov/dictionary on February 18, 2013.

Other health care professionals such as neurosurgeons, opthalmologists, audiologists, physiatrists, specialized nurses, and palliative care physicians may work with your loved one and/or the cancer care team as needed.

 

These nurses, they do much, much more than provide medical care. They are counselors and friends at the same time. Lynn H. (wife of a tongue cancer survivor)

References

1 Referenced with permission from The NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines®) for Head and Neck Cancers V.2.2016. © National Comprehensive Cancer Network, Inc 2016. All rights reserved. Accessed November 18, 2016. To view the most recent and complete version of the guideline, go online to www.nccn.org.

2 Gaziano JE. Evaluation and management of oropharyngeal Dysphagia in head and neck cancer. Cancer Control. 2002 Sep-Oct;9(5):400-9.

3 Chen H-C, Evans KFK, Salgado CJ, Mardini S. Methods of voice reconstruction. Seminars in Plastic Surgery. 2010:227-232.

4 National Cancer Institute Website. Accessed at http://www.cancer.gov/dictionary on February 18, 2013.