Making decisions about your care

Who can help?

Doctors, nurses and other health professionals care for you and can help you find your way through the health care system, from diagnosis through to treatment and recovery.

This section describes the roles of people who may be in your treatment team. Not all of them will be in the hospital or treatment centre, and they may have different titles depending on where you have treatment.

Your specialists

Depending on the cancer type and treatment you have, several specialists may plan and manage your treatment, including a surgeon, a medical oncologist, a radiation oncologist, a haematologist or a palliative care specialist. They can also answer any questions you have about your treatment. The doctors caring for you usually work as part of a multidisciplinary team (MDT).

You may think that your specialist is the only member of your treatment team who can answer your questions and address your concerns. It’s your right to ask your specialist questions, but there is often limited time in a consultation, so it is best to use that time to talk about your treatment.

Other members of your treatment team are often more accessible than your specialist, and they may be able to help you with questions and concerns more quickly. If you are treated in hospital, it may be helpful to talk to resident medical officers and registrars, who can ask your specialist for information.

Consider taking a list of questions when you visit your doctor.

Cancer care coordinator or clinical nurse consultant

The cancer care coordinator or clinical nurse consultant is a senior specialist nurse who monitors patients throughout their diagnosis and treatment, and works closely with specialists. They are a reliable source of information and support.

There may be cancer care coordinators for specific cancer types in large hospitals, while smaller hospitals may have general coordinators. In rural areas, cancer care coordinators may visit with the visiting oncologist. In hospitals that don’t have either a cancer care coordinator or a clinical nurse consultant, the nursing unit manager may have a similar role.

Social worker

The social worker is the primary point of contact for practical issues that affect life outside hospital, such as accommodation, transport, financial assistance, child care and home nursing care. Many social workers also provide emotional support and counselling. They ensure you can access the information and assistance that’s available in your local community, and will link you with people and services who are best able to meet your needs.

Your general practitioner (GP)

It is important to have a good relationship with a GP who knows you and your medical history. When you are discharged from hospital, your treatment team will usually provide you with information to give to your GP, and your specialists should send test results to them.

You can discuss treatment options with your GP, who can also arrange a second opinion if required. Your GP’s role may vary depending on where you live – for example, rural patients may have much more to do with their GP than people in urban areas.

Other health professionals

A range of health professionals can help you cope with the physical and emotional effects of cancer. These people include:

  • dietitians - specialise in diet and disease, and recommend an eating plan for you to follow during treatment and recovery
  • psychologists or counsellors – provide emotional support by listening to problems and offering strategies for dealing with them
  • physiotherapists – help you to move and exercise safely to regain strength, fitness and mobility
  • occupational therapists – offer equipment/aids and advice about getting back to your daily activities.

Cancer Council produces information about many different types of cancer. Call 13 11 20 and ask for free copies or order online.

Expert content reviewers:

Therese Burke, General Counsel, Cancer Council NSW; Toni Ashmore, Manager, Cancer Psychosocial Service, ACT Health, ACT; Art Beavis, Consumer; Marina Kastelan, Neuro-Oncology Cancer Care Coordinator, Royal North Shore and North Shore Private Hospitals, NSW; Dr Deborah Lawson, Legal Policy Advisor, McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer, Cancer Council Victoria and Union for International Cancer Control, VIC; Sarah Penman, Legal and Financial Support Services Manager, Cancer Council NSW; Jeanne Potts, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Victoria, VIC; Sharnie Rolfe, Consumer; Helen Tayler, Social Worker/Counsellor, Cancer Counselling Service, Belconnen Community Health Centre, ACT. We would also like to thank the health professionals and consumers who worked on previous editions of this title, as well as the original writers: Louisa Fitz-Gerald, Jenny Mothoneos, Vivienne O’Callaghan, Marge Overs and Laura Wuellner.

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