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Your health care team

Doctors, nurses and other health professionals offer a range of services to assist you, your family and carers. They can help you find your way through the health care system, from diagnosis through to treatment and recovery.

The information below describes the roles of the most common members of the 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.

Who can help?

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, and you may want to use that time to talk about your treatment. Other members of your treatment team are often more available than your specialist, and they may be able to help more quickly with any questions and concerns you may have.

Advanced cancer issues

People living with advanced cancer may face additional issues to those discussed here. Cancer Council has free booklets about advanced cancer, palliative care and end-of-life issues, as well as fact sheets about getting your affairs in order and dealing with debts after death. Call 13 11 20 for more information.

Health professionals who can help

General practitioner (GP) or family doctor
  • assists you with treatment decisions
  • refers you to specialists and can help arrange second opinions
  • works with your specialists in providing follow-up care after treatment
  • continues to see you for day-to-day health care issues
  • it is important to have a good relationship with a GP who knows you and your medical history
  • 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
Cancer specialist
  • may be a medical oncologist, surgeon, radiation oncologist or haematologist
  • depending on the type of cancer you have, you may need to see several specialists who will look after different aspects of your care
  • diagnoses the cancer and supervises your treatment, follow-up and overall care
  • can also answer any questions you have about your treatment
  • usually works as part of a multidisciplinary team
  • if you are treated in hospital, junior medical staff such as registrars and resident medical officers, may be able to help you with questions and concerns
Cancer care coordinator
  • may be called a clinical nurse consultant or clinical nurse specialist
  • a senior specialist nurse who coordinates your care throughout diagnosis and treatment, and works closely with specialists and other members of the health care team
  • a reliable source of information and support
  • larger hospitals may have cancer care coordinators for specific cancer types, while smaller hospitals may have general coordinators in rural areas, cancer care coordinators may attend 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 primary point of contact for practical issues, such as accommodation, transport, financial support, child care, and home nursing care
  • assesses what sort of support you need, and identifies ways you can receive this support
  • will link you with the people and services best able to meet your needs
  • may provide counselling and emotional support
  • in some hospitals, may be called a welfare worker
Physical therapists
  • physiotherapists help you to move and exercise safely to regain strength, fitness and mobility
  • exercise physiologists prescribe exercise to help people with medical conditions improve their overall health, fitness, strength and energy levels
  • occupational therapists offer equipment/aids and advice about getting back to your daily activities
Other health professionals
  • psychologists or counsellors help you understand your emotional response to diagnosis and treatment, and come up with strategies for managing your concerns
  • dietitians may recommend an eating plan for you to follow during treatment and recovery to ensure you meet your nutritional needs; and give you tailored advice on coping with any eating problems you may experience
  • speech pathologists help you manage any communication and swallowing difficulties

Featured resource

Cancer Care and Your Rights

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This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed June 2019 by the following expert content reviewers: Toni Ashmore, Cancer and Ambulatory Services, Canberra Health Services, ACT; Baker McKenzie, Pro Bono Legal Adviser, NSW; Marion Bamblett, Acting Nurse Unit Manager, Cancer Centre, South Metropolitan Health Service, Fiona Stanley Hospital, WA; David Briggs, Consumer; Naomi Catchpole, Social Worker, Metro South Health, Princess Alexandra Hospital, QLD; Tarishi Desai, Legal Research Officer, McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer, VIC; Kathryn Dwan, Manager, Policy and Research, Health Care Consumers Association, ACT; Hayley Jones, Manager, Treatment and Supportive Care, McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer, VIC; Victoria Lear, Cancer Care Coordinator, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, QLD; Deb Roffe, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Michelle Smerdon, National Pro Bono Manager, Cancer Council NSW.

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