Choosing Your Cancer Treatment Team

Finding the right people for your oncology team, or cancer treatment team, can take time, and that’s okay. Learn about who’s on your team and what each person does.

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Building Your Team

Find doctors and specialists who:

  • You respect
  • You can talk to easily
  • Don’t make you feel rushed
  • Answer your questions
  • Help you gather information to make thoughtful treatment decisions

Key Members of Your Cancer Treatment Team

ENDOSCOPIST

A specialist trained in the use of an endoscope. Usually, a biopsy will be taken by the gastroenterologist or endoscopist at the time of colonoscopy.

SURGEON OR SURGICAL ONCOLOGIST

This specialist is the doctor who will perform your surgery. Look for a surgeon experienced with colon and rectal cancer. (This is especially important
for rectal cancers.)

MEDICAL ONCOLOGIST

This doctor specializes in the general diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Medical oncologists are experts in medications like chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapies to treat cancer.

RADIATION ONCOLOGIST

This doctor specializes in treating cancer with radiation therapy to target and kill cancer cells. Radiation treatment is often used to treat rectal cancers.

ONCOLOGY NURSE

This nurse specializes in treating side effects that result from colorectal cancer treatment. An oncology nurse may administer your treatment and can be a key resource for information and support.

PALLIATIVE CARE DOCTOR/NURSE

This specialist can work with your treatment team to relieve pain and manage other uncomfortable side effects. Palliative care can begin at the time of diagnosis and can continue throughout treatment.

Key Members of Your Support Network

ONCOLOGY SOCIAL WORKER

Social workers provide many services to cancer patients and their families. They can serve as a bridge to your medical team and offer advice and resources to help you.

PHYSICAL/OCCUPATIONAL THERAPISTS

You may require rehabilitation during and after treatment. A physical or occupational therapist may work with you to reach optimal physical function.

FERTILITY SPECIALIST

If you are of childbearing age and considering family planning, discuss fertility preservation with your doctor before beginning treatment. Your doctor may refer you to a fertility specialist to discuss fertility preservation methods.

GENETIC COUNSELOR

In some cases, doctors may recommend seeing a genetic counselor. There are a number of genetic syndromes linked with a higher likelihood of developing colorectal cancer. Learning if you have one of the syndromes is important for treatment decisions and for alerting family members.

HOSPICE CARE

Hospice care teams focus on providing the best quality of life to an individual at the end of life. Unlike palliative care, hospice care is usually provided to patients with a life expectancy of less than 6 months.

PSYCHO-ONCOLOGIST/THERAPIST

These mental health professionals are trained to help you address the many challenges associated with cancer. These challenges could include adjusting to the diagnosis, the stresses of medical treatment, emotional needs, relationship navigation, and more.

REGISTERED DIETITIAN

A dietitian will educate you on how to eat well during and after treatment. You may find that your eating habits change during treatment. Knowing what to eat can help you stay nourished.

CHAPLAIN/SPIRITUAL CARE

Chaplains have the unique role of addressing existential questions asked by a patient. You can request to talk to a chaplain, or your hospital may ask you if you’d like to speak to one.

PATIENT NAVIGATOR

These are trained individuals who guide you through the cancer continuum – from diagnosis to survivorship. Patient navigators are trained to direct you to support services and any additional resources you may need.

Tips for Communicating with Your Oncology Team

  • Carry a notebook with you to write questions down and track side effects.
  • Bring someone else to appointments to help you manage the information you are receiving.
  • Use an online planner to let everyone in your support network know about your treatment schedule.
  • Drive the discussion -- take ownership of your care and make sure you and your health care providers are on the same page.
  • Get a second opinion! You can get one at any time and it's even recommended by most doctors. A second opinion will help you to feel more comfortable with the treatment you receive, learn more about your options, and get reassurance that you're on the right track.

Finding Treatment  for Colorectal Cancer

Investigate your options. Learn what hospitals or medical facilities are in your area and what services they offer. You may have to visit a few different facilities to get everything you need, so shop around for the best combination of providers to fit your supportive treatment goals. Be sure to check with your insurance provider to know what's covered and who's in network.

More Resources

  1. Get the ultimate go-to resource for everything Stage III & Stage IV colorectal cancer survivors need to know at time of diagnosis by downloading Your Guide in the Fight. You’ll get more information on everything you read here and so much more!
  2. For a complete list of National Comprehensive Cancer Network institutions with a full range of experienced staff, visit NCCN.org.
  3. Search our resource library to see specific tools, publications, and testimonials from other survivors who have been through this process before and have dedicated their time to helping you learn from their experience.

Call Fight CRC’s toll-free resource line (1.877.427.2111) to speak directly with a counselor from Cancer Support Community. They can connect callers to local or national resources, including support groups, transportation services, and other programs. Available in 200 languages from 9am-9pm EST, Monday through Friday.