It takes a village: what makes a cancer care team

October 24, 2018 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health

A cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming and there is no one-size-fits all treatment option.

Individuals facing a cancer diagnosis often need the experience and skills of several different medical professionals to treat the disease. This is where a multidisciplinary care team comes in.

A multidisciplinary care team can help you every step of the way — from diagnosis to treatment and recovery.

Multidisciplinary care teams include staff from different levels of the treatment pyramid, including nurses, nurses’ aides, surgical technicians, anesthesiologists and other specialists. Their advanced teamwork counters the “silo effect” by enhancing communication between different levels of healthcare workers.

Here are some of the healthcare professionals who may make up your multidisciplinary team:

  • An oncologist. Your oncologist specializes in diagnosing and treating cancer. Depending on your diagnosis, you may work with different types of oncologists (e.g., medical, surgical, radiation).
  • A pathologist. A pathologist is a medical doctor who specializes in looking at cells, tissues and organs to diagnosis the disease. Many people hear about their pathologist, but never meet them in person. 
  • A physician assistant (PA). PAs work with your doctor and deliver a wide range of services that may include:
  • Performing physical exams or recommending tests and reading the results
  • Helping with surgery
  • Prescribing medications and administering chemotherapy
  • Managing side effects
  • Providing education and counseling about cancer 

Nurses are often the heart of your cancer care. They adjust their role to fit the needs of their patient. Your care team may include:

  • An oncology nurse practitioner (NP). NPs often meet with you independently and collaborate with your oncology team. NPs are supervised by an oncologist and their responsibilities can include:
    • Performing physical exams and evaluating your health
    • Diagnosing and treating certain conditions or recommending tests and reading results
    • Prescribing medications or administering chemotherapy
    • Managing side effects
  • A patient navigator. A patient navigator will help guide you from diagnosis through survivorship. They also serve as a resource for counseling, financial and other support services. Patient navigators can be nurses, social workers or volunteers.

Your multidisciplinary team may also consist of clinicians who help with managing the disease. This part of your team may include:

  • An oncology dietitian. An oncology dietitian can help determine your dietary needs so you stay nourished during cancer treatment.
  • A rehabilitation therapist. A rehab therapist (e.g., physical therapist, occupational therapist) can help you rebuild strength and gain independence during treatment. 
  • A chaplain. A chaplain or member of the hospital clergy can meet your and your family’s spiritual needs. Many chaplains are trained for different denominations and beliefs. 

It can be difficult to know who does what during your treatment. Don’t be afraid to ask the people caring for you what their roles are in your care.

A multidisciplinary care team is a must for people with cancer. Throughout your treatment, the members of your care team work together, drawing on their specialized training, to meet your individual needs and help you fight the disease.

Edward-Elmhurst Health brings together expert cancer professionals from a variety of specialties under one roof. This helps to speed up treatment and provide you with comprehensive, more convenient care close to home. Learn more about multidisciplinary cancer care at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

Read how a comprehensive care team gave this patient faith and hope to fight.


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