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Treatments & Side Effects

Roles of Your Treatment Team

Treatment of breast cancer involves a team of many different specialists.  

Surgical oncologist - This doctor performs surgery to remove cancerous tumors from the body.  He or she also provides expertise on biopsy techniques, imaging guidance, and what role, if any, for surgery to aid in the treatment of more advanced disease.

Medical oncologist -  This doctor is responsible for ordering tests to determine the grade and stage of the breast cancer.  He or she also makes evidence-based decisions regarding type, and duration of chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and targeted biologic therapy to treat the cancer.

Radiation oncologist - This doctor applies radiation to treat cancer. Using an evidence-based approach, he or she is responsible for recommending, prescribing and supervising therapeutic radiation.

Nurses - Nurses provide cancer care to patients in a variety of settings, including the cancer treatment centre, hospitals and the community.  They are the central point of contact for the patient throughout diagnosis and treatment, and they facilitate quality, timely care.  The role of the nurse will be different at each cancer treatment centre and may include navigation, accompaniment, referrals, health education, and counselling.  The role of the nurse is to understand the health needs of clients and make sure that they receive optimal care. 

Radiation therapists plan and administer radiation treatments that are prescribed by your radiation oncologist.  They also provide patient education, emotional support and counseling. 

Social workers help patients, families, and caregivers deal with the experience of managing cancer. They are skilled health care providers who can assist with the psychological, social, emotional, and spiritual issues that people face as part of their cancer journey.  Social workers will also assist with practical needs, such as finding hospital and community based resources, and with complex needs such as dealing with an illness, making difficult health care decisions, transiting between care, navigating cultural issues, and talking with family members, friends, and health care providers.

Registered Dietitians help you eat well for your health.  They can help you with difficulties chewing or swallowing; constipation, diarrhea, bloating, sore or dry mouth, taste changes, loss of appetite and weight loss due to your treatment.  They can also answer questions about the myths of diet and cancer, natural health products, nutritional supplements, vitamins and minerals and reducing your cancer risk.

Pharmacists are responsible for filling and preparing your treatment drugs.  They are also responsible for educating patients about treatment side effects, and will also perform drug development research. Your cancer centre pharmacist is an excellent resource to answer any questions about your cancer medication.

Palliative Care -  Palliative care is aimed at relieving suffering and improving the quality of life for persons who are living with, or dying from, advanced illness or are bereaved.  Members of the palliative care team can include you, your loved ones, a palliative doctor, your other doctors, a nurse, a social worker, a pharmacist, a spiritual care provider, a physical therapist, a dietician, and volunteers.  For more information on palliative care, see the Living with Metastatic Breast Cancer section of this website.

Plastic Surgeon - A plastic surgeon is responsible for performing surgeries that restore, reconstruct or alter the body.  They would be responsible for performing breast reconstruction surgery.

Depending on the facility, you may have access to other professionals who are part of your health care team, such as occupational therapists, physical therapists, and a psychosocial oncology team.  Working together, these professionals will ensure that you get comprehensive care for your breast cancer.

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