- Your Cancer Care Team
- Your Cancer Treatment Plan
- The Importance of Preventing Infections
- Managing Side Effects and Medications
Several different types of health care professionals will be involved in your cancer care. This group is often referred to as “your cancer care team.” They will help you and your loved ones mange the emotional and physical effects of cancer treatment. They will also help you navigate your way through the health care system, find answers to your questions, and connect you to resources that can help you manage your cancer experience.
Knowing who is on your team will make it easier to manage your treatment and find resources you need. These are some of the health care professionals who may be on your cancer care team:
Medical oncologists are doctors trained to diagnose and treat cancer. They specialize in using chemotherapy, targeted therapies, immunotherapies and other cancer drugs.
You are likely to have more direct contact with your nurses than with your doctors. Typically, nurses will be in charge of implementing the medical care plan your doctors developed for you. They are a good source for information, resources and emotional support. Oncology nurses, radiation therapy nurses and oncology nurse practitioners have special training in caring for people with cancer. Nurse practitioners have additional education in the form of a master’s degree and can prescribe medications and diagnose illnesses.
Pathologists are doctors who examine and test cancer tissues and cells and interpret the results. They provide the information your medical oncologist and other members of your cancer team will need to make treatment decisions.
A radiologist is a doctor who reads and interprets x-rays, ultrasounds, CT scans, MRIs and other imaging tests. This member of your team may also perform biopsies during special x-rays or ultrasounds.
A surgeon is a doctor who can perform the biopsies (cells or tissues are removed from the body and examined to help with a diagnosis) or surgery that you may need.
A surgical oncologist is a doctor who had specialized expertise in operations used to treat cancer. For example, this doctor may take a biopsy, remove a tumor, or put in a central line.
Radiation oncologists are doctors who have specialized training in the use of radiation therapies to treat cancer.
The radiation oncologist gives the dosimetrist information about the radiation dose you should receive. The dosimetrist uses this information to calculate and plan your radiation treatment.
The radiation therapist delivers the radiation therapy treatments to patients.
The medical physicist ensures a patient receives the exact dose of radiation prescribed by the radiation oncologist.
Family Doctor or General Practitioner
This doctor provides your primary health care.
Social workers have training in how to identify and provide services to address a patient’s social and emotional needs. They can help you and your family gets the help you need to cope with cancer and its treatment.
Palliative Care Specialist
Palliative care specialists can help relieve the symptoms and stress of cancer and its treatments. The goal of palliative care is to reduce pain and improve quality of life for you and your family. Palliative care specialists work as part of a team that can include palliative care doctors, nurses, nutritionists, massage therapists and others.
Pharmacists are doctors who prepare and dispense drugs and medications. The pharmacist can explain to you how your medications work, the proper way to take them, and what side effects they may cause.
Psychiatrists and Psychologists
Psychiatrists and psychologists are mental health specialists who can help you and your family to manage and cope with feelings, thoughts, worries and behaviors. Psychiatrists are doctors and have the ability to prescribe medication.
Dietitians can answer your questions and provide guidance on diet and nutrition throughout your treatment and recovery.
Plastic surgeons are doctors who specialize in cosmetic and/or reconstructive surgery with the goal of improving the function and/or appearance of a body part.
Rehabilitation specialists help people take preventive measures to maintain their ability to perform daily activities as well as recover from physical changes caused by cancer or cancer treatment. Physical therapists, occupational therapists, counselors, speech therapists and other professionals who help you physically recover from cancer all are rehabilitation specialists.
Home Health Aides
Home health aides assist people who are ill and need help moving around, bathing, cooking, or doing household chores.
Hospice Care Providers
Hospice care providers focuses on the special needs of people who have terminal or end-stage cancer. Hospice care focuses on providing physical comfort and giving emotional or spiritual support.
Members of the clergy conduct religious worship and perform other spiritual functions associated with beliefs and religion. Prayer and spiritual counseling can be helpful with coping with cancer. For some, a strong sense of spirituality can provide a source of courage and a sense of hope while facing cancer.
You and your doctor will base your treatment decisions on your unique situation, including your overall medical condition and your personal considerations.
After your treatment has been determined, your cancer care team can provide you with a document known as a Cancer Treatment Plan. The treatment plan provides an overview of what’s to come. It can help you stay organized, ask questions and talk to your medical team about your cancer treatment.
What Your Cancer Treatment Plan Should Include
- your cancer diagnosis
- your tumor’s characteristics
- the diagnostic tests performed to determine your specific type of cancer
- treatments you have received or plan to receive
- supportive service available to you
- dates and location of scheduled treatments
- side effects of treatments
- recommendations and precautions to take to manage short- and long-term treatment-related side effects
- information on scheduling of follow-up visits, screening tests, etc., and
- complete contact information for members of your health care team
You can see and download cancer treatment plans for you and our medical team to complete on this patient website developed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
Tips for Developing Your Cancer Treatment Plan
Research your treatment options.
To feel more confident in the decisions you make, it may be helpful to do some research on your own about the treatment options that are available. It may also be helpful to get a second opinion from another doctor. This is a common thing to do, and you shouldn’t worry that getting a second opinion will somehow hurt your doctor’s feelings. You may also want to see what clinical trials are available to you. Learn more about clinical trials.
Take notes or bring a recording device to keep track of what the doctor tells you. It will be a good reference to go back to later if you have questions.
Bring someone with you.
If you are comfortable sharing your medical information with a family member or friend, bring that person along. Having a friend or family member with you at your appointments will give you moral support. It also means you will have someone who can listen for key points, take notes for you, and remind you to discuss side effects or issues that you have forgotten.
Write down your questions prior to your appointment.
You will get a lot of information during appointments where you talk about your treatments. Hearing this information can sometimes be stressful or emotional, so it may be hard to remember every question you have.
Make sure you understand everything.
A cancer diagnosis brings you into a world of words and treatments you may not be familiar with. If you don’t understand something, ask—and keep asking questions until it all makes sense. Repeating back to the doctor what you think she or he has said is one way to be sure you are both on the same page.
Ask for the best way to contact your health care team.
Questions about your treatments may come up between appointments. Ask whom you should contact, what type of communication is preferred (phone calls or email) and how long it may take you to receive a response. Find out where you should go and whom you should contact during a true emergency situation.
To find more educational materials that can help you prepare for your doctor appointments, develop your cancer treatment plan or learn about cancer therapies and their side effects, see our Frankly Speaking About Cancer materials.
The Importance of Preventing Infections
Chemotherapies and other cancer treatments can compromise your immune system by affecting the blood cells that protect against disease. This may lead to an increased risk of infections and may put you at risk for getting sick more easily. Don’t worry. There are many preventative steps that you can take to stay healthy.
Practice Good Hygiene
- Wash your hands well with soap and warm water, especially before you cook or eat, after you use the bathroom, and after being in a public place.
- Brush your teeth two to three times daily following meals to clean bacteria in your teeth and gums. Don’t forget to brush your tongue and floss too!
- Wash your wounds thoroughly and cover with a band-aid for protection.
- Avoid touching your mouth, eyes and ears with dirty hands.
- Keep yourself clean by showering each day.
- Cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing.
- Avoid individuals who are actively sick with a virus, cold, or contagious disease.
Develop Food Safety Habits
- Wash hands in warm soapy water before handling, preparing and eating food.
- Consume only pasteurized juices and dairy products.
- Consume food that has not passed the expiration date.
- Store raw meat, fish and chicken carefully in wrapped containers to avoid spilling juice that can potentially contaminate other food.
- Avoid raw or undercooked meat, poultry, fish or shellfish.
- Store foods at their proper temperature right after buying them to limit growth of germs.
- Clean your utensils, cookware and sponges well with hot water (in a dishwasher, if possible).
- Clean your countertops after cooking, especially if the meal included raw meat, poultry or seafood.
- Check with your health care team before receiving any vaccines.
- Avoid using any vaccines with live viruses such as MMR, varciella and the shingles vaccine.
- Talk to your health care team about the timing of your vaccinations, as they may not be as effective when given during chemotherapy or radiation therapy. According to the Centers of Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC), people vaccinated within 14 days before starting cancer treatment should be considered unimmunized and should be revaccinated at least three months after therapy is stopped.
- Cancer patients are at an increased risk for complications from the flu and are advised to get the flu vaccine. You should get the shot—not the nasal spray—because it is safer for cancer patients. Also, ask your doctor to talk to your caregivers, family members and friends about why they should also receive the flu vaccine.
- Cancer patients are at increased risk of developing pneumonia, so ask your doctor about getting the pneumococcal pneumonia vaccine. This vaccine will help protect against certain types of pneumonia and meningitis.
Know The Signs of Infection
Talk to your doctor right away if you experience these signs of infection:
- fever of more than 100.4 Fahrenheit or 38.0 Celsius
- chills or sweats (with or without fever)
- cough or shortness of breath that your team is unaware of
- redness, swelling, drainage, or warmth at a site of a wound or anywhere on the skin
- nasal congestion
- sore throat
- burning or pain when passing urine, or
- stiff neck.
Not everyone responds the same way to cancer and its treatments. Some people experience many short- and long-term side effects. Others have only a few, or none at all. Talk to your doctor about what side effects your treatments may cause so that you will know how to manage and treat them if they do develop. You will also want to ask your doctor about which side effects are most common and which you should be most concerned about.
Your best resource for managing side effects will be your cancer care team. They know your unique situation and will provide you with tailored advice to help make you more comfortable through your treatment.
These tips can help you manage some of the treatment-related side effects you may experience:
Some ways to manage fatigue are:
- Organize your activities around your best times of the day where you have the most energy.
- Incorporate exercise into those times of the day as well.
- Eat and drink healthy foods, avoiding alcohol and greasy and fried foods.
- Take time to rest as this is an important part of your recovery. Do not feel guilty during rest days.
- Notify your healthcare team if onset of fatigue is new and ask them for advice in regards to management.
To help manage pain:
- Track and monitor your pain including where the pain is located, if new, when it occurs and what helps to alleviate it.
- Talk to your doctor about using prescription and nonprescription drugs to help manage the pain.
- If pain remains a problem, ask for a referral to a pain specialist.
To get a better night’s sleep:
- Develop a consistent routine to sleep and wake up at the same time each day.
- Reduce noise, dim lights and distractions.
- Exercise regularly, if you are able.
- Talk to your medical team about sleep aids if your sleep is affected.
Cancer and its treatments can affect your memory and thinking abilities. To help reduce these effects:
- Plan your day and schedule things that require the most concentration for when you feel best.
- Stay organized by taking notes, recording things, using a calendar for important dates and a pillbox for your medication.
- Make time for physical activity as it can increase mental alertness.
Your cancer treatments may affect your appetite as well as change how things taste. To help maintain a healthy weight:
- Try and increase your calorie intake with protein-laden foods that are healthy.
- Eat multiple meals throughout the day and have snacks available for times when you get an appetite.
- Perform weight-bearing exercises to prevent muscle loss (with clearance from your healthcare team).
Some cancer treatments and some drugs used to help reduce side effects can cause weight gain. To help maintain a healthy weight:
- Evaluate your eating habits and activity level and try to identity areas of overeating or inactivity.
- Incorporate aerobic exercise into your daily routine.
- Limit your fat and sugar intake while increasing your fruit, vegetables and whole grains.
- Speak to your medical team about seeing a nutritionist who can work with you directly to formulate an eating plan.
Some cancer treatments may put you into immediate menopause. Or, you might be in or enter menopause while you are being treated for cancer. To help manage symptoms:
- Perform weight-bearing exercises to reduce the risk of osteoporosis (bone thinning).
- Do deep breathing and other relaxation techniques to help manage hot flashes.
- Use vaginal lubricants or vaginal estrogens to help with vaginal pain or dryness. (If you have hormone-sensitive breast cancer you and your doctor will need to discuss the risks and benefits of vaginal estrogen.)
Cancer treatment usually involves several medications. Some of these medications are used to directly treat the cancer. Others are for managing side effects, like pain and nausea. It is important to keep track of the medications you are taking to ensure that your treatment is carried out as intended.
These tips can help you manage your medications:
Whether you use pill organizers, charts, calendars, or another method, find a system that helps you and your caregivers keep track of your medication. This will help you feel confident that you are taking the right medication at the right time.
Have a Master Medication List
Maintain a master list of your medication. You can ask your health care team to print out a list of your medications for you. You and your care team should review an up- to- date list at each clinic appointment. This will ensure everyone on your team is fully aware of the medications you are taking. If you have one or more caregivers who help you organize your medication, it will be important to review the list with them as well.
Do Not Skip Doses
Do not skip a dose of your medication. If you do miss a dose, don’t keep it a secret. Contact your health care team to find out what you should do.
Get Refills Early
Make every attempt to not run out of your medicine. Call your pharmacy when you notice that you are running low on your medication and need a refill. If you have medications that you receive through the mail, be sure to give ample time for them to arrive.
Report Side Effects
Tell your cancer care team about any side effects that you experience. These side effects could be an indication that you may be experiencing another health problem, that you need a new medication, or that one of your medications needs to be changed—and your team needs to know about it.
Talk to Your Cancer Care Team First
Before you start taking supplements, begin a new exercise routine, get vaccinated, or start taking a new medication prescribed by a doctor not involved with your cancer care, talk to a member of your care team. By talking to them first, you will feel confident that any new supplement, medication or exercise program you are starting will not interact with your cancer treatments.