Mesothelioma Diagnosis and Treatment: A Team Approach to Care
The medical term for cancer is malignant neoplasm, which describes a class of diseases characterized by uncontrolled cell growth that will usually lead to a malignant mass or tumor. Cancer is an extraordinarily complex illness, and as a result, a broad spectrum of health professionals come together in a team approach to accurately diagnose and effectively treat the disease.
The general field of cancer medicine is known as oncology, and physicians who specialize in cancer treatment are known as oncologists. In today’s world of highly specialized medicine, oncologists tend to focus their training on and limit their practice to specific regions of the body. Varied specialties aside, oncologists will practice within one or more of the three general disciplines summarized below:
- Medical Oncologists: This physician has completed a three-year residency in internal medicine, training that is then followed by a minimum two-year fellowship in oncology. The medical oncologist may serve as a cancer patient’s primary physician, and while he or she may administer chemotherapies, this cancer doctor will oftentimes serve as the chief administrator of an oncology patient’s care—facilitating, coordinating, and monitoring the efforts of a wide variety of cancer care specialists.
- Radiation Oncologist: This specialty requires five years of radiation oncology studies—no subsequent fellowship program is required to become a Certified Radiation Oncologist. Radiation is one of the most common and effective methods of destroying cancer cells; unfortunately, radiation damages adjacent healthy cells as well. It is the radiation oncologist’s challenge to provide cancer patients with nuclear medicine therapies designed to minimize deleterious side-effects and long-term risks to health.
- Surgical Oncologist: This certification is attained through a five-year residency in general surgery, followed by a two-year oncology surgery fellowship. The surgical oncologist serves those cancer patients whose disease has proved resistant to non-invasive or minimally-invasive treatments such as chemo and radiological therapies. The surgical oncologist will perform invasive surgical procedures to ameliorate neoplastic disease—many will specialize in particular regions or organs of the body such as the lungs, brain, urological sites, etc.
A Broad Spectrum of Oncology Specialties
Because of the wide ranging anatomical implications of cancer, the team of health professionals who specialize in neoplastic care is a large one. Oncology diagnosis and treatment is accomplished through the multidisciplinary efforts of numerous physicians and oncology support personnel who aid in the fight against cancer within the categories summarized below:
- Pediatric Oncologist: This cancer doctor specializes in the treatment of childhood and adolescent cancer. Generally considered to be a cancer patient’s primary physician, the pediatric oncologist will incorporate, manage, and monitor therapies administered within the three main divisions of cancer care.
- Gynecologic Oncologist: OB/GYN trained physicians who complete
2-4 year program that provides training in all aspects of gynecological and reproductive system cancer treatments such as nuclear, surgical, and chemo therapies.
- Diagnostic Radiologist: A physician who specializes in nuclear and magnetic-based medical imaging (MI) to effect an accurate diagnosis of malignant disease. MI technologies and techniques offer cancer doctors a safe and non-invasive clinical tool to detect the presence and quantify the extent of cancer.
- Pathologist: Another critical member of the cancer diagnosis team, this physician is responsible for the laboratory examination of tissue samples in order to confirm or rule out the presence of cancer. While pathologists typically work directly with a patient’s oncologist, the pathologist’s contribution is behind the scenes with little to no patient contact.
- Oncology Nurse: This health professional is considered by many
to be the backbone of any cancer care facility. All oncology nurses
must first graduate from a state-approved school of nursing to
obtain the certification of Registered Nurse (RN). Any RN who
wishes to specialize in oncology nursing must attain certification
as an oncology nurse (OCN), which involves completion of a variety
of classroom and clinical programs designed to provide nurses
with highly advanced cancer care skills.
The oncology nurse can continue his or her training to achieve the accreditation of Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse (AOCN), as well as Certified Pediatric Oncology Nurse (CPON). Oncology nurses are involved in a broad spectrum of cancer care services such as the administration of chemotherapies, doctor/patient and patient/home care coordination services, research, and more.
- Oncology Social Worker: A Masters in Social Work (MSW) degree qualifies this professional to help those individuals touched by cancer to cope with the day to day social implications of living with the disease. Counselors help individuals cope with the loss of a loved one, as well as offer guidance on the host of social and psychosocial issues associated with cancer.
The team approach to cancer care also includes the services of
specially trained oncology dieticians, nutrition specialists who
ensure that those who are afflicted with cancer are served by a
proper diet. Some cancer patients may also require the services
of specially trained rehabilitation therapists who work to restore
the cancer-impaired motor or speech skills of patients. Finally,
for those who seek spiritual guidance, all cancer care facilities
provide patients and families with the services of members of the
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