Recommendations, public reviews, and input from support groups can help you find a cancer team you trust.

Your cancer treatment plan is individualized to your needs. It depends on the type and stage of your cancer, the cancer’s location in your body, and your overall health, among many other variables.

You’ll likely visit various medical professionals during this time, from your primary care physician (PCP) and their nursing staff to cancer specialists, including surgeons, medical oncologists, and radiation oncologists.

You have a right to choose every medical professional involved in your care, and assembling a cancer care team that you’re comfortable with can help you feel empowered and confident in your cancer management strategy.

Medical doctors are health professionals who have passed rigorous examination and licensure requirements to evaluate, diagnose, and treat medical conditions.

Each practicing doctor specializes in an area of interest, whether it’s general practice, like your PCP, or a specific component of human health, such as cancer (medical oncologists).

Your cancer care team may consist of several types of doctors, which are described below.


Your PCP is the doctor you typically visit when you first notice symptoms of an injury or illness. They’re your first doctor contact for most conditions before you receive a cancer diagnosis.

Your PCP does your general examination and begins preliminary testing to confirm or rule out possible diagnoses. They can order blood work, diagnostic imaging, and laboratory testing.

If they suspect that you have cancer, your PCP will order more tests, possibly including imaging and a biopsy. During a biopsy, a pathologist will look at a sample of your tissue under a microscope to determine whether you have cancer.

If you receive a cancer diagnosis, your PCP will refer you to a cancer specialist for advanced treatment options.


Oncologists (medical oncologists, surgical oncologists, and radiation oncologists) are doctors who specialize in diagnosing, treating, and managing cancer. Your PCP may recommend a certain type of oncologist, depending on the type of cancer you have.

For example, pediatric oncologists specialize in childhood cancer, while dermatologic oncologists focus on skin cancers.

Oncologists can also specialize in a treatment approach, such as surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy. It’s common to take a multidisciplinary approach to treating cancer, which means that more than one type of oncologist will be involved in your treatment.

Medical oncologist

Medical oncologists are doctors who specialize in diagnosing, staging, and managing cancer with anticancer drugs. They’re skilled at planning and implementing the following types of treatment:

Radiation oncologist

A radiation oncologist oversees the administration of radiation therapy in cancer, such as external beam radiation therapy and brachytherapy. The radiation oncologist on your care team determines the best radiation type, dose, and treatment schedule for your diagnosis.

Surgical oncologist

If your cancer requires surgery, your care team will include a surgical oncologist. This type of cancer doctor is trained to treat cancer surgically, which may involve procedures such as:


Radiologists are doctors who are highly trained in diagnostic imaging. They’re experts at accurately interpreting the results of imaging tests such as:

After visually assessing these results, radiologists can help determine the stage of cancer, direct interventional procedures such as biopsies, and advise on the use of other therapies.


Hematologists are doctors with expert knowledge of diseases that affect blood, including blood cancers.

Not only can a hematologist interpret general blood tests, but they can also diagnose and monitor a variety of cancers affecting your blood, such as the three most common blood cancers: lymphoma, leukemia, and myeloma.


Doctors who focus exclusively on the cellular progression of a disease are called pathologists.

As part of your cancer care team, a pathologist uses tissue samples to evaluate the appearance of cells. They can identify precancerous changes, cancer-specific features, and tumor characteristics that indicate the cancer’s grade.

Your pathologist’s findings guide treatment protocols and can help monitor cancer’s spread by evaluating the integrity of surrounding tissue.

Medical geneticist

If your cancer is related to genetics, your cancer care team may include a medical geneticist. This doctor will help you understand your genetic risk factors and heritability. They can order and interpret specialized tests and plan targeted gene therapies.

Other medical professionals on your cancer care team

Doctors are the powerhouse of your cancer care team, but they’re supported by a host of other talented medical professionals who ensure that your care accounts for all aspects of your well-being.

Medical professionals who may be part of your care team include:

  • Nurse oncologist/radiation therapist: a nurse specializing in cancer care
  • Clinical pharmacist: a pharmacist with in-depth knowledge of cancer medications
  • Dietitian: a professional who provides cancer-focused nutrition guidance
  • Palliative care specialist: a healthcare professional focusing on quality-of-life management
  • Mental health professional: a doctor, therapist, or counselor who can help you cope with the psychological demands of a cancer diagnosis
  • Social/case worker: a healthcare advocate who can help you coordinate and access support resources
  • Physical therapist: a healthcare professional who can help you regain or improve physical function
  • Occupational therapist: a healthcare professional who helps you recover skills of daily living
  • Spiritual advisor: a member of your spiritual group who provides support and comfort
  • Nurse navigator: a healthcare advocate focused on guiding you through the cancer care system, your appointments, and the available treatment options

Cancer affects each person uniquely. Your cancer care team may include other medical professionals, depending on your individual needs. For example, some people may need to work with respiratory therapists or pain management specialists.

Expertise and trust top the list when you’re selecting a cancer doctor.

Finding a professional with extensive experience helps ensure that you’ll receive comprehensive, up-to-date care, but it’s also important that you feel confident and comfortable with the members of your care team.

According to a national survey analysis from 2023, patient-centered care in cancer, such as allowing open question-and-answer sessions, significantly boosts a person’s trust in their cancer doctor. The feeling of being able to trust a doctor helps reduce anxiety and uncertainty about a cancer diagnosis.

When selecting cancer doctors who are right for your team, consider these tips:

  • Ask for recommendations from your PCP or another trusted medical professional.
  • Check with your health insurance carrier about healthcare professionals who are within your network.
  • Talk with family and friends about doctors they’ve visited.
  • Reach out to local cancer support groups to learn from other people’s experiences.
  • Visit national organizations’ professional directories for a list of doctors in your area.
  • Read public reviews about each doctor and their facilities.
  • Pick a doctor who has extensive experience with your specific diagnosis.
  • Look for someone who is board certified (a credential that requires additional training and testing).
  • Verify that office hours and emergency contacts align with your regular schedule.
  • Ask which hospital your doctor works with and check its reputation.
  • See whether the doctor and their office can accommodate any cultural or language needs you may have.
  • If you’re interested in clinical trials, ask whether the doctor is involved or supports involvement.

Don’t be afraid to schedule an initial appointment to see whether you and the doctor get along. Even if someone is an expert in their field, they may not have the communication style you prefer or be as attentive as you’d like.

It’s OK to visit multiple doctors to find one you’re comfortable with in a place you feel respected.

Getting a second opinion is a common practice and one that most doctors support.

Second opinions can provide certainty about your diagnosis and treatment plan. Hearing your options from another perspective can help you better understand the proposed therapies, and each doctor may have different preferences about available cancer treatments.

There’s no limit to how many opinions you can seek about your diagnosis. A third or fourth opinion might be necessary, especially if you’re exploring novel treatments or have an uncommon cancer.

Aside from confirming your diagnosis, you might consider getting a second opinion if:

  • your doctor doesn’t have much experience with your specific diagnosis
  • your diagnosis is rare
  • communication with your doctor is strained or confusing
  • you’ve learned about treatments your doctor doesn’t offer
  • your health insurance carrier requires a second opinion

Home care services are cancer support services provided in the comfort of your home.

Home care can focus on home healthcare, which includes medical therapies administered by licensed professionals, or personal care, which involves services that focus on quality of life and help you keep up with daily responsibilities and activities.

Your cancer care team and your health insurance carrier can help you connect with home care services in your area, but finding the right fit can be just as important as it is when choosing your primary doctor.

Here are some tips to help you find home care services that are right for you:

  • Ask your cancer care team, loved ones, and cancer support groups for recommendations.
  • Create a list of specific areas you’ll need support in and match it to each company’s services.
  • Read reviews and research each company’s reputation.
  • Verify the credentials of the professionals who will be providing care.
  • Ask about the company’s customer protection policies and quality assurance.
  • Interview home care professionals to find out whether you might be compatible with them.
  • Discuss emergency support and schedule flexibility.

Navigating a cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be isolating. Many, many people live with cancer. The National Cancer Institute estimates that more than 2 million new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in 2024 in the United States alone.

Connecting with others who understand what you’re going through can be comforting. Support groups for cancer offer a place to share your experiences without fear of judgment. You can learn from others and share what you’ve learned as well.

To find out more about cancer support groups or to find one in your area, you can use the following resources:

Your cancer care team can also guide you to local community or hospital support networks.

Loved ones are also a part of your cancer care team. In addition to providing assistance with daily life, they can offer a level of emotional support that only comes from deep bonds of love and trust.

It’s OK to rely on family and friends to help you during this time. You’re not being a burden, and you’re not being lazy. Cancer is mentally and physically demanding, and allowing others to relieve some of the load can significantly improve your overall well-being.

Ways your loved ones can support you include:

  • helping with everyday tasks such as getting groceries
  • driving you to medical appointments
  • helping you schedule doctor visits and keep track of medications
  • providing socialization, comfort, and connection
  • going with you to appointments to take notes or provide emotional support
  • encouraging you to keep up with healthy lifestyle habits
  • advocating for your rights during cancer management

Successful cancer management involves working with a dynamic team of medical professionals, healthcare experts, advisors, peers, and loved ones. Feeling comfortable and confident in your team is important every step of the way.

By seeking recommendations, reviewing reputations, and conducting personal interviews, you can make sure the members of your cancer care team are right for you. If at any time you’re not comfortable with your level of care, it’s OK to seek a second (or third or fourth) opinion.