Your medical care team
During your cancer journey, you will be cared for by a team of health professionals and support staff. Your medical care team will include doctors, nurses and allied health staff each with a role to play.
You should have a main doctor who will be coordinating your care. They will consult with different doctors and health professionals who are specialists in your cancer, known as a multidisciplinary team (MDT).
Once all your investigations have been carried out, your specialist team should meet to discuss the results. The MDT meeting may include doctors from radiology (X-ray), pathology, surgery and oncology departments, as well as specialist nurses and other health professionals, and is aimed at using the broad expertise of the team to deliver therapeutic options that are tailor for you.
This diagram shows who could be in your treating team.
- Your GP
- Medical oncologist
- Pancreatic cancer surgeon
- Palliative care physician
- Cancer nurses
- Social worker
- Physiotherapist or Exercise physiologist
Talking to my team
Each individual’s care team may be slightly different, with a different type of specialist as the “main” or central doctor for communication. For a person with liver cancer, the central communicating doctor might be a hepatologist; whereas, for one with pancreatic cancer, the oncologist might be the main contact. In many cases, the specialist upper gastrointestinal nurse will be your main point of contact.
I got neuropathy, numb and weak fingers and toes when I had chemotherapy. My friend is a pianist, he told his doctor that he was concerned this would happen to him – so he and his doctor talked and made decisions about the treatment and what was right for him
Steve, 69 yrs living with pancreatic cancer
Communicating with your medical care team
Good communication between you and your treating team is very important.
You should expect to:
- understand your health condition and plans for your treatment
- be able to ask any question that you want answered
- know who the members of your treating team are
- know who your contact person in the team is in case you have questions
- have clear, open and respectful communication with all health staff
- be able to request copies of your tests and reports if you wish to have them
- ask how experienced a health professional is with treating pancreatic cancer
- seek second or third opinions if you want to
- negotiate a break in your treatment if you believe you need it
- have someone ask you about your needs for support.
You can learn more about your rights and what to expect when receiving health care on the Australian Charter of Healthcare Rights.
> Australian Charter of Healthcare Rights
I am the focal point of contact with families if they have concerns with any emotional or physical symptoms or issues throughout their cancer journey. Patients are given my contact details for during business hours. Its absolutely important to have a go to person, it’s hugely helpful for them.
Meg, Gastrointestinal nurse specialist
Questions to ask your medical care team
If you can, take someone with you to medical appointments.
Being given a lot of information can be overwhelming so a friend or family member can be a second pair of ears. If English is not your first language, try to take an English-speaking family member or friend with you – even when an interpreter is available.
Plan ahead and write down the questions you want to ask. Some questions you may ask are:
- What is the specific type of cancer, has it spread and what are the recommended treatment options? For example, surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
- Where the treatment will take place and what are the side effects?
- The impact of cancer treatment on diet. Will I need to see a dietitian and take dietary enzymes?
- What will be the cost of the treatment and medicines and if these can be reduced
- Are any clinical trials suitable for me?
- Ways to complement medical treatment such as massage, exercise or meditation.
- Are there other things such as emotional and practical support I might need?
- When will palliative care be suggested?
- What does this diagnosis mean for my future?
It is important to ask every question that you want answered. For a comprehensive list of questions, please review our ‘Questions to ask your oncologist’ page, where you can download a copy of questions to take with you to your next appointment.
I went back full time. Some days I felt very, very tired, looking back it was a really hard thing to do. But I think for me mentally it would’ve been harder to be in the house on my own. I think it was the best thing I probably did, was going back.
Natalie 46yrs, mother and teacher with pancreatic cancer
Once you are in hospital, you will meet lots of different people. Ask your treating doctor who your contact person (key contact) is going to be – the person you can call directly if you have questions about how you are feeling, your treatment or the next steps. This might be a cancer specialist nurse, nurse co-ordinator, or doctor.