When you are a patient at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, your care is always 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—yours. Our team members meet regularly to discuss patients’ diagnostic and treatment information, so that each patient benefits from a wide range of expertise. Representatives of many different disciplines involved in your care work to ensure that you receive the best possible treatment for your needs. Here is some information about their roles.
For most cancers, treatment is led by one or more primary physicians, including a medical oncologist, surgical oncologist, and radiation oncologist. For some cancers, you may also see an interventional radiologist. Each of these experts brings a clear set of skills and techniques for treating cancer.
Members of each Memorial Sloan Kettering treatment team specialize in treating one type of cancer. This means that the physicians and other healthcare professionals treating you can 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.
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.
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 MSK surgeons are trained to use specialized instruments or minimally invasive techniques, such as robotic surgery, laparoscopic surgery, or microsurgery.
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 MSK radiation oncologists have special expertise in using precisely targeted approaches such as intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) and image-guided radiation therapy (IGRT).
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, interventional radiology techniques are also commonly used in place of surgery to remove tissue for a biopsy (examination of tissue under a microscope).
Nurses play an important role in caring for patients at Memorial Sloan Kettering and are often the treatment team members with whom you will have the most contact. Nurses bring deep knowledge, experience, and expertise to your care, because they specialize in helping people with your particular type of cancer. Nurses will help you during your experience at MSK, whether you are being treated in the hospital or as an outpatient.
At MSK, nurses collaborate with doctors and other members of your patient care team to develop a treatment plan that is right for you, placing your needs and preferences first. 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.
You will encounter clinical nurses throughout your treatment at MSK, whether you are being cared for as an inpatient or outpatient. Clinical nurses will help you prepare 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 collaborate 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. 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 periods just before, during, and immediately after 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 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 people whose care requires a hospital stay. 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 practitioners have completed advanced education in nursing. They work with physicians and other members of the patient care team to develop and carry out 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 managing 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.
The diagnostic team at Memorial Sloan Kettering includes a pathologist, radiologist, nuclear medicine specialist, and genetic cancer specialist. These doctors and related healthcare professionals 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—and both work together to develop an individualized treatment plan.
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. MSK pathologists specialize in characterizing certain types of cancer, and are trained to examine blood cells, cancer cells, or other types of tissue. Some 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.
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. These specialists use scanners to locate radionuclides in the body, revealing a tumor’s location. 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 in a person’s genetic code that can provide a more precise estimate of his or her risk of developing cancer. They also use such biological markers to predict a cancer patient’s response to certain medical treatments.
Specialized Support Team Care
Memorial Sloan Kettering’s multidisciplinary patient care teams include various medical specialists and subspecialists, such as an anesthesiologist, endocrinologist, medical physicist, radiation therapist, pulmonologist, and more. Our specialists perform diagnostic and therapeutic tasks that enhance the overall coordination and quality of care.
An endocrinologist is a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating diseases that affect the production of hormones. Our 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 MSK endocrinologists also treat patients who have cancer of the neuroendocrine system, which triggers the production of hormones that regulate bodily functions through the nervous system.
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 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.
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.
A pulmonologist is a doctor who diagnoses and treats diseases and cancers of the lungs and respiratory tract. MSK pulmonologists use a variety of tools to evaluate lung function and work with a multidisciplinary team that may include a surgeon, radiologist, medical oncologist, radiation oncologist, and nursing staff.
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 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).
Memorial Sloan Kettering’s patient care teams include various healthcare professionals who focus on helping patients and their families cope with a cancer diagnosis. At MSK, these may include a genetic counselor, nutritionist/dietitian, oncology social worker, psychiatrist, and rehabilitation therapist. 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.
MSK’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.
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/dietitian specializes in helping patients plan menus during their hospital stay and after treatment. Learn more about our Medical Nutrition Therapy Services team.
Oncology Social Worker
Oncology social workers assist with the emotional, social, and physical impact of a cancer diagnosis. They may provide counseling and practical assistance, help children cope with their parent’s illness, improve communication with family and friends, teach stress reduction techniques, provide information on community resources, and ease adjustment to medical treatment.
Rehabilitation therapists are trained to help patients regain functions that were compromised during cancer treatment. They specialize in providing physical, occupational, speech, or recreational therapy services, and work closely with physiatrists, who prescribe rehabilitative therapies. Learn more about our Rehabilitation Services.