Know Your Oncology Team

When you have cancer, it’s more likely than not that you will see a lot of doctors. They all refer to each other, but rarely do patients get a straightforward explanation of who everyone is on your team. That is, until now: 

1. Medical oncologist (often just called the oncologist): We are the quarterbacks of your team and should be the person coordinating your care. Medical oncologists give chemotherapy, but do not give radiation or do surgery. Since your oncologist should be directing your overall care plan, he/she is the person to go to with questions when you're not sure who to ask.

2. Surgeon: This may be a subspecialized surgeon (for example, breast surgeon, Ear, Nose, & Throat surgeon, Colorectal surgeon, Plastic Surgeon). They cut things out when the cancer is in the right position or not spread extensively (usually not stage IV. . . ) A Plastic Surgeon is the person who may be needed to reconstruct parts of the body that surgery may alter, such as breasts after a mastectomy. 

3. Radiation Oncologist: These are the people who zap things with beams of radiation. This can often be done with, or sometimes after, surgery or chemotherapy. Your radiation oncologists will work in conjunction with your medical oncologists and surgeons to decide when radiation is appropriate and the benefits outweight the risks. 

4. Pathologists and Radiologists: These are the doctors that you most often do not get to meet. The Pathologists look at the cancer cells under a microscope and help to make the diagnosis and determine any mutations that we may be able to target in your treatment. The Radiologists are the doctors who review your scans, and are specially trained to note changes in tumor size or location. We rely heavily on both of these doctors to determine the type, location, and size of your cancer. Your medical oncologist will typically communicate with them behind the scenes, but most often the patient's never get a chance to meet the Pathologists or Radiologists. 

In addition to your cancer team comprised of several of the individuals above, it is still important for patients to follow with their Internist or Primary Care Doctor to help manage any non-cancer related issues. Conditions that may have existed before your diagnosis such as high blood pressure, diabetes, etc. should not be forgotten about, and the Primary Care Doctor should remain an integral part of the team even during the treatment process. Your Medical Oncologist should keep your Primary Care Doctor in the loop regarding your treatment so that he/she can best understand if your cancer is influencing any other medical conditions and you receive the most comprehensive care possible!


At the Coastal Hematology & Oncology Center, Dr. Taff is very conscious to communicate regularly with the other members of your cancer team so that your doctors, and you, are all on the same page. Call us today or Book Online to see Dr. Taff and let us show you what a strong cancer quarterback can do for you! 




Jessica Taff MD Dr. Jessica Taff is a triple board certified Medical Oncologist, Hematologist, and Internist. She is founder of the Coastal Hematology & Oncology Center.

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