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Mesothelioma Care Providers: The Specialists You May Encounter

During your journey through the mesothelioma diagnosis and treatment process, you will meet and work with a variety of professionals who are there to help you along the way. This overview gives you an idea of what you might expect along the way and the kinds of experts who should be on your team to provide you with the best care.

Physicians

There are many different types of doctors, or physicians, that you may meet with during your diagnosis and treatment. Often, symptoms bring a patient to his or her family doctor first. Your doctor will then likely recommend a variety of other experts and specialists to provide diagnosis and treatment.

Primary Care Physician

This is your regular doctor, to whom you go as your first visit when you have any kinds of symptoms or illness. This is the physician who is often the first stop for someone whose mesothelioma has become symptomatic. People with pleural mesothelioma may think they have a bad cough or have come down with bronchitis, and may make an appointment to be tested by their primary care providers first. From there, the primary care physician will likely refer these patients out to specialists who can further narrow down the options until a final diagnosis can be made.

Oncologist

A primary care physician may rule out more common illnesses and suspect you have cancer. You will then bee referred to an oncologist, or a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating cancer. An oncologist can get you an accurate diagnosis of mesothelioma,which usually involves biopsies of lung tissue or fluid via aspiration with a needle, possibly combined with imagine techniques such as PET scans or MRI scans. The oncologist will determine the type and stage of cancer, and help you with planning treatment options and coordinating with other specialized care providers.

Radiologist

A radiologist may work together with an oncologist by ordering imaging and interpreting the results in order to determine the exact diagnosis. A radiologist may also perform imaging tests during the mesothelioma treatment process in order to determine how effective a given treatment is at reducing the size and spread of your mesothelioma.

Thoracic Surgeon

If your treatment plan is going to include surgery, you will be referred to a thoracic surgeon. A thoracic surgeon specializes in surgical care of the chest cavity and all its organs, including the lungs. For pleural mesothelioma—the most common type of this rare cancer—thoracic surgery is often called for as a first or second line of defense against the disease. Your surgeon will work with other specialists if a combined treatment approach is deemed appropriate. For example, a radiation oncologist may provide radiation treatment before and after surgical treatment provided by the thoracic surgeon.

Radiation Oncologist

If radiation therapy is part of your multimodal treatment plan, you will be referred to a radiation oncologist—a cancer doctor who specializes in using radiation for treatment. Your radiation oncologist, like most of the medical professionals you encounter during diagnosis and treatment, will likely coordinate with other doctors in order to provide tailored care and treatment of your cancer. For example, a radiation oncologist may work together with surgeons and other oncologists who may prescribe chemotherapy as part of a combined treatment approach.

Nurses and Technicians

Although doctors are the ones to diagnose you and plan treatment, ordering tests and interpreing the results, other medical professionals will be involved in your daily care and the administration of treatments. Nurses and other technicians such as phlebotomists and radiology technicians are generally the ones to actually give you treatments and perform diagnostic tests. You may also encounter medical technicians in the labs if you go for blood work or in the scanning rooms if you go for imaging tests.

These support professionals play an important role in providing the hard data that the doctors then analyze in order to effectively diagnose and treat your cancer. They are also responsible for helping patients feel more comfortable and communicating your needs and concerns to the physicians.

Social Workers

One of your doctors or other care providers may refer you to a social worker. A social worker can point you in the direction of support resources that you can seek out as you cope with your mesothelioma diagnosis and treatment. For example, he or she may refer you to mesothelioma support groups in your area or on the internet, or may refer your caregivers to a network of respite care providers. He or she may also point you in the direction of counselors and therapists who understand the unique stresses that mesothelioma patients and their families go through.

Caregivers

Although not technically medical professionals, caregivers—who are often family members—are the people who work with mesothelioma patients on a daily basis, coordinating doctors’ appointments, administering medications, preparing meals and doing tasks that keep the patient’s household up and running during the treatment process. These are the people who help you with the day-to-day struggles of living with mesothelioma.

As you go through this medical journey you will encounter these and other professionals who are there to help you. Never be afraid to ask them questions and insist on getting answers and explanations before you move forward with any kind of care or treatment. When you understand who you are working with and what roles they play, you may feel safer and better about being in their expert care.

Page edited by Dave Foster

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Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available. Connect with Patient Advocate Dave Foster

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