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Treating breast cancer involves a team of health care professionals all working to develop a plan based on your specific disease type. When a group of health care professionals comes together as a team, it is called taking a “multidisciplinary” approach. The combined knowledge and expertise of your health team aims to provide you with the best care. At any one time, one of the specialists may be working with you more directly. This will happen when their specific area of treatment expertise is being delivered or recommended.  

Some of the health care team members that may be involved in your care include:

  • Cancer nurse – This health care professional gives you medical and supportive care, including administering chemotherapy and helping manage symptoms. Your cancer nurse can answer many questions you might have on medical and practical issues.

  • Family doctor – Your family doctor plays an important role in your general health and well-being. The family doctor is an important member of your health care team. He or she may provide further support and guidance on your treatment. If you are consulting your family doctor for issues that are not cancer-related, it is still important to inform them about your cancer treatments, as they can have different effects on your body and health.

  • Medical oncologist This doctor works in treating cancer using something called systemic treatments (i.e., medications) that are delivered to the entire body, such as chemotherapy, hormone therapy, biologic therapies and other medications. Medical oncologists are usually responsible for your overall care during the course of your treatment.

  • Palliative team – Palliative care specialists include doctors, nurses, social workers and others who have specialized training to give physical, emotional, social or spiritual care that focuses on maintaining a patient’s well-being as much as possible. This support can be given over months or years. Palliative therapy can include radiation or medicines for pain, nausea, shortness of breath and other symptoms. These treatments aim to relieve symptoms and improve quality of life.

  • Patient navigator – This health care professional helps guide women and their families through the health care and cancer systems. Depending on where you live, the patient navigator may help coordinate care from different health care professionals and provide additional information, resources and counselling services. Some centres have navigators to help access funding for medication; they are called a drug navigator/coordinator.

  • Pharmacist – This health care professional prepares and dispenses medications. Pharmacists understand how medications work with each other and will explain how often and when to take your drugs. Your pharmacist will also share any special instructions, such as taking medication with food or avoiding certain foods or supplements. He or she can also give you advice on side effects and how to manage them. If you have a pharmacist outside of the hospital, make sure that they know about your diagnosis and treatment.

  • Psychologist / Psychiatrist – A psychologist/psychiatrist is a health care professional that can help you and your family cope with the emotional impacts of cancer. Individual or group counselling may be offered. They can also provide support for your partner and children.

  • Physiotherapist – Also known as a physical therapist, this health care professional helps maintain or restore strength. They do this through physical activities that focus on everyday movements to keep muscles strong and flexible. Physiotherapists may help in the treatment of lymphedema.

  • Radiation oncologist – This doctor uses radiation therapy to manage cancer cells, shrink tumours and relieve certain symptoms (such as pain). Radiation uses high-energy x-rays targeted at the affected areas of your body.

  • Radiologist ­– This doctor specializes in imaging techniques and is the person who usually reads (interprets) the images made during the test.

  • Radiation therapist – This health care professional works with the radiation oncologist to plan and deliver your radiation treatment and help manage the side effects.

  • Registered dietitian – This health care professional is an expert on nutrition and can help you make sure you are eating right. A registered dietitian can also recommend foods that are good for you when you are not feeling well.

  • Social worker – This health care professional supports and gives advice to patients and families in a number of ways. A social worker may provide referrals to support groups, explain financial assistance options and provide other educational resources. They can also give counselling to help manage feelings of isolation or loneliness as well as counselling and support for your partner and children.

  • Support groups and patient organizations Support groups and patient organizations are good places to find additional information and connect with others who are living through similar experiences. Groups and organizations may offer support in person, over the phone or online for both you and your family.

  • Surgical oncologist – Also called an oncology surgeon, this doctor performs surgery to remove tumours and manage certain cancer-related symptoms. This professional uses special training in specific surgical techniques required for treating various cancers. Depending on where you are treated, your surgery may be performed by a surgical oncologist or a general surgeon.

The titles of certain types of health care providers may vary by hospital. For example, a cancer nurse may also be known as a pivot nurse or a clinic nurse. Some hospitals may also have specific roles for health care professionals that others may not have.