Receiving a cancer diagnosis can sometimes be a long process, but almost always it will be overwhelming to some degree. During your diagnosis and especially as you move into cancer treatments, you will encounter a wide variety of cancer care providers and other cancer specialists along the way. Here is a quick breakdown of each, which will hopefully make it easier for you to know who you can contact with different types of inquiries.
General practitioner or family doctor
Your GP will continue to provide support and information about your cancer diagnosis, although he or she will likely take a back seat to your oncology/urology team. Your GP can be a fantastic resource for managing other conditions you have, as well as managing side effects from cancer treatments.
Urologists are specialists in the urinary tract and reproductive organs. This includes the urethra, bladder, and kidneys. This includes treatments for cancer, incontinence, and sexual function.
If you’re about to go to your first urology appointment, you can learn what to expect.
It’s common for urologists to perform surgery:
- Transurethral resection of the prostate
- Transurethral needle ablation of the prostate
- Sling procedures
- Opening blockages or making repairs
A urologist has completed a 4-year college degree, 4-years of medical school, and then 4-5 years of medical training at a hospital. A urology resident is undergoing this training in a hospital, but has already completed medical school. Urologists are certified by the American Board of Urology after completing a certification exam.
A urologic oncologist is a urologist who specializes in cancer care. They treat:
- Masses or tumors of the adrenal glands
- Kidney masses, cysts, or cancer
- Bladder cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Testicular cancer
- Penile cancer
A urologic oncologist has completed all of the requirements to become a urologist and then completed an additional year or two of training in urologic oncology. A urology fellow is undergoing this additional training. Urologic oncologists are certified urologists; there is currently no additional certification for their specialization.
An oncologist is trained to diagnose, stage, and treat cancer. They specialize in using chemotherapy and hormone therapy. Your medical oncologist is often the best person to talk to when deciding on the right cancer treatment for you. Your oncologist keeps up with the latest research and can connect you with clinical trials. Typically, your oncologist will be the point person for your cancer care and will coordinate with the rest of your medical team.
An oncologist can also help you manage symptoms and side effects. Your oncologist will also typically be the one to start palliative care or hospice care.
A medical oncologist has completed a 4-year college degree, 4-years of medical school, and then 4-5 years of medical training at a hospital. They are then licensed by the state to perform medical oncology.
A radiation oncologist specializes in treating cancer with radiation. They can also help you choose between your treatment options and manage your side effects and symptoms.
A radiation oncologist has completed a 4-year college degree, 4-years of medical school, and then 4-5 years of medical training at a hospital. They must pass an exam from the American Board of Internal Medicine. Radiation oncologists must pass an exam to be certified by the American Board of Radiology. Certification must be renewed every 10 years.
A surgical oncologist performs biopsies as well as removing tumors. They are critical for staging your cancer as accurately as possible.
A surgical oncologist has completed a 4-year college degree, 4-years of medical school, and then 4-5 years of medical training at a hospital. Surgeons who specialize in oncology are tested and certified by the American Board of Surgery.
A pathologist performs and interprets imaging tests, like x-rays, ultrasounds, and MRIs, to diagnose and monitor your cancer. They also examine tissue samples. They are important for making treatment recommendations.
A pathologist has completed a 4-year college degree, 4-years of medical school, and then 4 years of medical training at a hospital. They are certified by the American Society for Clinical Pathology. A pathologist who has a specialization has undergone an additional 1-2 years of training.
A pain management specialist can evaluate, diagnose, and treat pain. There are a huge variety of types of pain, causes, and treatment options. A pain management specialist may also coordinate physical therapy, psychological therapy, and rehab.
A pain management specialist has completed a 4-year college degree, 4-years of medical school, and then 4 years of medical training at a hospital. They then completed at least one year of additional training in pain management. They may be certified by the American Board of Anesthesiology, The American Board of Psychiatry and The American Board of Neurology, or the American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.
Nurses are a tremendous resource for education and support. They are often the primary point of care, rather than a doctor. Many nurses specialize in a certain type of care, such as in oncology or urology. A nurse may monitor your condition, prescribe medication, and administer treatment.
A nurse (RN) has completed a 4-year college degree and passed the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). An oncology nurse (OCN) has worked as a nurse for at least one year, with 1,000 or more hours in oncology, and been certified by the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation.
X-ray & radiology technician
An x-ray tech, or radiologic technician, uses special equipment to take images of the inside of your body. These images are then ready by a radiologist or pathologist.
An x-ray tech (RT) may have a 2- or 4-year degree run by a program accredited by the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT) or The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). Certification by ARRT is not mandatory, but most medical centers require it. Most states also require that x-ray techs are licensed.
Oncology dietitian nutritionist
A registered dietitian who is a certified specialist in oncology nutrition (RD CSO) can help you manage the side effects and symptoms of prostate cancer and treatment. You can learn more about what to expect when working with an oncology dietitian and how to get the most out of working together.
Remember that anyone can call themselves a nutritionist. An RD has a 4-year college degree, 6-12 months of supervised training, and is certified by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and Commission on Dietetic Registration. An RD CSO has 2,000 additional hours of oncology training and passes a certification exam every 5 years. Some registered dietitian nutritionists refer to themselves as RDs, others use the term RDN. They both indicate the same training and certification.
A pharmacist is an expert in knowing what each cancer medication is used for, potential side effects, and potential interactions. Your pharmacist knows all of the medications you take, as well as any supplements, so they may catch potential problems when different specialists prescribe medications that may interfere with each other or cause problems for other reasons.
A pharmacist completes both a 4-year undergraduate and a 2-year graduate degree. They are then licensed by the state.
Physical therapy can help prostate cancer patients maintain strength, mobility, and function. With prostate cancer it can help offset bone weakening from hormone therapy.
Physical therapist assistants have a 2-year degree. A physical therapist will have a master’s degree or a doctoral degree from an accredited program. They are then licensed by the state.
Oncology social worker
A social worker can provide a wide range of counseling services and support for cancer patients and their families. An oncology social worker will connect you to resources, help navigate health insurance coverage, and support you as you cope with the emotional aspects of cancer.
A social worker has a bachelor’s and master’s degree (MSW). They must pass the Association of Social Work Boards exam and meet other requirements to be licensed by the state.
While there is no specific certifications or education to become a cancer caregiver, these can often be some of the most important people to have around to maintain your mental wellbeing. Caregivers can be family, friends or neighbors, who in some shape of form offer a bit of assistance to make your life a little easier as you go through your cancer treatment.