Mesothelioma Care Providers: The Specialists You May Encounter
During your journey through the mesothelioma diagnosis and treatment process, you may encounter a variety of professionals who are there to help you along the way. This overview will give you an idea of what you might expect along the way.
There are many different types of doctors that you may meet with during your diagnosis and treatment. Often, symptoms bring a patient to his or her family doctor first, and the interactions with various medical professionals proceeds from there.
Primary Care Physician
This 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.
When cancer is suspected, a primary care physician will usually refer a patient to an oncologist, or a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating cancer. Diagnosis of mesothelioma specifically usually depends on 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.
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.
If surgery is determined to be a part of your treatment process, you may 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 may work hand-in-hand 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.
If radiation therapy is going to be a part of your treatment plan, you will be referred to a radiation oncologist—a cancer doctor who specializes in radiation treatment. Your radiation oncologist, like most of the medical professionals you encounter during the diagnosis and treatment of your mesothelioma cancer, 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.
Other Care Providers
All of these aforementioned doctors may coordinate with other professionals, such as nurses, caregivers and social workers, who will provide further support during your treatment process.
Nurses and Technicians
Although doctors generally order tests and interpret the results using their expertise in their fields, nurses and other technicians such as phlebotomists and radiology technicians are generally the ones to actually administer those tests. You may encounter these professionals in the labs if you go for bloodwork or in the scanning rooms if you go for imaging tests. These support professionals provide the hard data that the doctors then analyze in order to effectively diagnose and treat your cancer.
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 are savvy to the unique stresses that mesothelioma patients and their families go through.
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.
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