Your Cancer Care Team

Pictured: Richard Barakat Your cancer care team will combine the skills and experience of several health care professionals. Here surgical oncologist Richard Barakat (center) confers with other medical staff.

At Memorial Sloan Kettering, patient care is a team effort. Each of our patient care teams combines the skills and experience of several healthcare professionals, many of whom specialize in diagnosing and treating one type of cancer. Our team members meet regularly to discuss patients' diagnostic and treatment information, meaning that each patient benefits from a wide range of expertise. Having representatives of many different disciplines involved in your care ensures that you will receive the best possible treatment for your specific needs.

During your treatment at Memorial Sloan Kettering, you may encounter a variety of healthcare professionals. Here is information about their roles on the patient care team.

Treatment Team

For most cancers, treatment is led by one or more primary physicians, including a medical oncologist, a surgical oncologist, and a radiation oncologist. For some cancers, you may also see an interventional radiologist. Each of these physicians brings a defined set of expertise and techniques for treating cancer.

At Memorial Sloan Kettering, members of each treatment team specialize in treating one type of cancer. This means that the physicians and other healthcare professionals on your treatment team are highly experienced in caring for patients with the type of cancer you have. Working together, your treatment team will develop a plan for the combination of treatments that will lead to the best possible outcome for you.

To locate doctors who specialize in treating a specific type of cancer, or to schedule an appointment, please visit Find a Doctor.

Medical Oncologist

A medical oncologist is a doctor who treats cancer patients with chemotherapy, biologic therapies, or other cancer-fighting drugs. Medical oncologists usually specialize in treating one or more types of cancer that occur in a specific organ or tissue (such as the liver, lungs, bone, blood, or skin), organ system (such as the central nervous system, hormonal system, or reproductive system), or region of the body (such as breast or head and neck). The medical oncologist often coordinates the activities of a patient's treatment team.

Surgical Oncologist

A surgical oncologist is a doctor who uses surgery to remove tumors. Most surgical oncologists specialize in treating one or more types of cancer that occur in a specific organ (such as the liver, lungs, bone, or skin), organ system (such as the nervous or hormonal system), or region of the body (such as breast or head and neck). Many Memorial Sloan Kettering surgeons are trained to use specialized instruments or minimally invasive techniques, such as robotic surgery, laparoscopic surgery, or microsurgery.

Radiation Oncologist

A radiation oncologist is a doctor who prescribes radiation therapy (beams of high-energy radiation, or radioactive seed implants) to shrink or eliminate tumors. He or she works together with a medical physicist to create an individualized treatment plan for each patient. Some radiation oncologists specialize in treating one or more types of cancer that occur in a specific organ (such as the prostate, lungs, or bone) or region of the body. Many radiation oncologists at Memorial Sloan Kettering have special expertise in using precisely targeted approaches such as intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) and image-guided radiation therapy (IGRT).

Interventional Radiologist

An interventional radiologist is a doctor who uses imaging techniques such as CT, ultrasound, and MRI to guide the delivery of treatments directly to a tumor. Interventional radiology procedures — such as tumor ablation (using heat or cold to kill tumor cells) or embolization (using beads or other substances to block a tumor's blood supply) — are performed with very small incisions. Some interventional radiology procedures are performed in combination with surgery. For some cancers, including breast cancer, interventional radiology techniques are also commonly used in place of surgery to remove tissue for a biopsy (examination of tissue under a microscope).

Nursing

Nurses play an important role in caring for patients at Memorial Sloan Kettering, and are often the members of the treatment team with whom you will have the most contact. Nurses bring extraordinary knowledge, experience, and expertise to your care, because they specialize in helping people with your particular type of cancer. Nurses will help you through your experience at Memorial Sloan Kettering, whether you are being treated in the hospital or as an outpatient.

At Memorial Sloan Kettering, nurses collaborate with doctors and other members of your patient care team to develop a treatment plan that is right for you. The nurses on your team provide a range of services — administering therapies, monitoring your treatment and watching out for side effects, educating you and your family about what to expect during treatment, and offering emotional support. Nurses also help coordinate your appointments, communicate important information to various members of your patient care team, and keep track of other details related to your treatment. Nurses at Memorial Sloan Kettering maintain a patient-centered focus, placing your needs and preferences first.

Here is information about some of the nursing professionals you may encounter at Memorial Sloan Kettering:

Clinical Nurse

You will encounter clinical nurses throughout your treatment at Memorial Sloan Kettering, whether you are being cared for as an inpatient or outpatient. Clinical nurses will assist you when going for surgery, chemotherapy infusion, or radiation treatment, and in other procedural and diagnostic areas. Outpatient nurses, perioperative nurses, and inpatient nurses are all considered clinical nurses.

Outpatient nurses perform a variety of services. Each one collaborates with a single physician on the patient care team, providing patients and their families with a consistent source of information, education, and support during office visits and home care. Patients who contact the doctor's office with questions about their treatment or symptoms first speak with an outpatient nurse, who can provide expert advice as well as referrals to specialists in other departments such as social work, nutrition, smoking cessation, and integrative medicine. Nurses who administer chemotherapy, biologic therapy, and other therapies through intravenous infusion receive specialized education. Research study nurses are trained to identify specific problems that may arise for patients participating in a clinical trial.

Perioperative nurses are responsible for patient care during the period just prior to, during, and immediately following surgery. Perioperative nurses provide specialized care in the presurgery center, operating rooms, procedure rooms, and recovery rooms. If you are scheduled to go home immediately following your surgery or procedure, perioperative nurses will ensure that you and your family receive and understand your discharge instructions and will phone you at home during your recovery.

Inpatient nurses are responsible for your care during your stay in the hospital. Whether you are admitted to the hospital immediately after surgery or for treatments such as chemotherapy and bone marrow transplant, inpatient nurses will administer your care, assess your response to treatment and medication, educate you and your family about your care needs at home, and coordinate your discharge from the hospital.

Nurse Practitioner

Nurse practitioners have completed advanced education in nursing. They work with physicians and other members of the patient care team to develop and implement a treatment plan that meets the needs of individual patients and their families. They order medications, treatments, and diagnostic tests, and may perform some procedures. Nurse practitioners also provide long-term follow-up care for cancer survivors.

Clinical Nurse Specialist

Clinical nurse specialists have advanced education in nursing, and assist the care team in the management of patients with complex needs. They provide bedside care, ongoing assessment, and education and support for patients and their families. They also mentor staff and support professional development activities.

Nursing Assistant and Patient Care Technician

These individuals provide basic patient care and support under the direction and supervision of a registered professional nurse.

Diagnostic Team

The diagnostic team at Memorial Sloan Kettering includes doctors and other healthcare professionals who use information from blood tests, imaging tests, and other specialized diagnostic tests to identify the type and location of cancer and determine the stage (extent) of the disease. Like the treatment team, members of the diagnostic team are trained to identify specific types of cancer. The diagnostic team works with the treatment team to develop an individualized treatment plan for each patient.

Pathologist

A pathologist identifies and classifies different types of cancer by studying the appearance of cells and tissue. Many types of cancer can be identified by the appearance of their cells under a microscope. Pathologists at Memorial Sloan Kettering specialize in characterizing certain types of cancer, and are trained to examine blood cells, cancer cells, or other types of tissue. Some pathologists specialize in looking for genetic abnormalities that are associated with certain diseases or cancers. Pathology results are critical in determining the precise stage (extent) of disease or cancer.

Radiologist

A radiologist, also known as a diagnostic radiologist, is a doctor who uses medical imaging technology, such as x-rays, CT, MRI, or ultrasound, to examine internal organs and other structures. Radiologists interpret information from imaging tests to help make an accurate diagnosis for many types of cancer.

Nuclear Medicine Specialist

A nuclear medicine specialist is a doctor who administers radionuclides (molecules that emit radiation) to help identify cancer. Radionuclides are attached to substances that travel through the body and are absorbed by certain types of cancer. Nuclear medicine specialists use scanners to identify the location of radionuclides in the body, revealing the location of a tumor. They may also administer medicines that deliver a therapeutic dose of radiation to tumors.

Genetic Cancer Specialist

A genetic cancer specialist is a doctor who uses laboratory tests to identify features within a person's genetic code that can provide a more precise estimate of his or her risk of developing cancer. Genetic cancer specialists also use such biological markers to predict a cancer patient's response to certain medical treatments.

Specialized Care

Memorial-Sloan Kettering's multidisciplinary patient care teams include a variety of medical specialists and subspecialists. Our specialists perform several diagnostic and therapeutic tasks that enhance the overall coordination and quality of care.

Anesthesiologist

An anesthesiologist is a doctor who administers medicines that block sensation (such as pain) or awareness during surgical procedures. Anesthesiologists consult with surgeons to develop an anesthesia plan that is tailored to the individual needs of the patient for the duration of a procedure.

Endocrinologist

An endocrinologist is a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating diseases that affect the production of hormones. At Memorial Sloan Kettering, endocrinologists focus on diagnosing and treating cancers that begin in hormone-producing glands and organs, including the adrenal, pituitary, thyroid, and parathyroid glands, and in the ovaries, hypothalamus, testes, and pancreas. Some endocrinologists also treat patients who have cancer of the neuroendocrine system, which triggers the production of hormones that regulate growth, development, reproduction, and other bodily functions through the nervous system.

Gastroenterologist

A gastroenterologist is a doctor who diagnoses and treats cancers of the digestive system, such as stomach cancer. Gastroenterologists perform a variety of procedures, such as colonoscopies, to see portions of the digestive system that are difficult to view with diagnostic imaging techniques.

Hematologist and Hematologic Oncologist

A hematologist is a doctor who specializes in treating blood disorders. Hematologic oncologists focus on treating cancers that arise in blood cells, such as leukemia.

Medical Physicist

Medical physicists work with radiation oncologists to ensure that each patient receives the appropriate radiation dose during radiation therapy treatments. Medical physicists also work with radionuclides (molecules that emit radiation), which are sometimes used in imaging tests. In addition, medical physicists may perform quality control of radiation therapy equipment.

Neurologist, Neuro-Oncologist, and Neurosurgeon

A neurologist is a doctor who diagnoses and treats diseases of the nervous system. Neuro-oncologists focus on treating patients with cancers of the central nervous system, such as brain and spinal cord tumors. A neurosurgeon specializes in surgery for the brain and nervous system.

Physiatrist

A physiatrist is a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating patients who have physical impairments and/or disabilities related to cancer or cancer therapy. The physiatrist's goal is to improve patient quality of life and function. Physiatrists prescribe treatments for patients with musculoskeletal disorders, neuropathy (damage to the nervous system), spinal cord injuries, brain injuries, bowel and bladder dysfunction, amputation, osteoporosis, and lymphedema (a chronic swelling of a limb due to the removal of lymph nodes). Treatments may include physical or occupational therapy, assistive devices, and medications.

Radiation Therapist

A radiation therapist is a healthcare professional who administers radiation therapy as prescribed by a radiation oncologist. Radiation therapists educate patients about radiation treatment and its potential side effects. The radiation therapist monitors treatment and shares results with other members of the patient care team.

Pulmonologist

A pulmonologist is a doctor who diagnoses and treats diseases and cancers of the lungs and respiratory tract. Pulmonologists use a variety of tools to evaluate lung function. In cancer treatment, pulmonologists work with a multidisciplinary team that may include a surgeon, radiologist, medical oncologist, radiation oncologist, and nursing staff.

Physician Assistant

A physician assistant can perform a variety of healthcare services under the supervision of a doctor. Physician assistants may administer cancer screening tests, conduct physical examinations, order and interpret tests, assist with surgical procedures, prescribe medications, and order chemotherapy. Some physician assistants perform procedures such as lumbar puncture (the removal of cerebral spinal fluid) and biopsy (the removal of fluid or tissue for examination under a microscope). Physician assistants also provide patients with education or information about their cancer.

Supportive Care

Memorial Sloan Kettering's patient care teams include healthcare professionals from a variety of disciplines who focus on helping patients and their families cope with a cancer diagnosis. They provide services that address the many physical and emotional issues that can arise during cancer therapy, and help patients adjust to life after treatment.

Genetic Counselor

Memorial Sloan Kettering's Clinical Genetics Service includes counselors who are specially trained to help patients and their families understand their genetic risk factors for certain types of cancer. Genetic counselors can help interpret the results of genetic screening tests and information from personal or family histories. They also make referrals to psychologists and other counselors trained to help patients cope with the challenges that may arise from genetic testing. Learn more about the Clinical Genetics Service.

Nutritionist

Patients with certain types of cancer — such as head and neck cancer, stomach cancer, or pancreatic cancer — may have dietary limitations during or after treatment. A nutritionist is a healthcare professional who helps patients plan menus during their hospital stay and after treatment. 

Oncology Social Worker

Oncology social workers provide patients and their families with practical and psychosocial support during their treatment at Memorial Sloan Kettering. For example, they help with discharge planning and the coordination of home care. In addition, they provide patients and families with counseling, or information about support groups, to help in adjusting to life after cancer treatment. Oncology social workers also direct patients to community-based resources that can help in dealing with the financial aspects of life after treatment.

Psychiatrist

A psychiatrist is a doctor who specializes in treating depression and anxiety, which can occur during or after cancer therapy. Psychiatrists can prescribe medications to alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety, which can help patients adjust to life during or after cancer treatment.

Rehabilitation Therapist

Rehabilitation therapists are licensed healthcare professionals who are trained to help patients regain functions that were compromised during cancer treatment. Rehabilitation therapists specialize in providing physical, occupational, speech, or recreational therapy services. Rehabilitation therapists work closely with physiatrists, who prescribe rehabilitative therapies. Learn more about rehabilitation.