Types of Mesothelioma Doctors
During the diagnostic and treatment process, a mesothelioma patient often visits a number of different medical professionals. Before diagnosis patients usually meet with their general practitioner (GP), also known as a primary care physician or family doctor. If the GP suspects that the patient has cancer, additional diagnostic tests may be performed by a radiologist or pulmonologist, or the patient may be referred directly to a surgeon for biopsy. Over time, patients may see five or six different doctors (or more).
After a mesothelioma diagnosis, patients will usually be treated by several doctors with a wide range of medical specialties. This is known as a multidisciplinary approach to treatment. The team can include medical oncologists, radiation therapists, surgeons, pulmonologists, internists and even homeopaths. Depending on the first course of treatment, either the patient’s surgeon or medical oncologist will take on the role of team leader.
World-Renowned Mesothelioma Doctors
Several mesothelioma doctors have emerged as leaders in their field. These doctors often train under other experts and are familiar with the latest developments in treatment. Most mesothelioma experts work at prestigious hospitals that provide access to cutting-edge technology or ongoing clinical trials.
Some of the nation’s most renowned mesothelioma doctors include:
Harvey Pass, M.D.
NYU Medical Center
Types of Mesothelioma Doctors
There are a number of different paths that can lead to a mesothelioma diagnosis. Most commonly, the process begins when you visit your general practitioner to discuss any respiratory symptoms. If cancer is not suspected right away, you may have several additional appointments with the GP before being referred to a specialist.
The types of doctors a mesothelioma patient might see for diagnosis can include:
During the initial diagnostic visit, the general practitioner will conduct a basic physical and ask you about your symptoms and any previous health issues. GPs can perform some tests in the office, or they may decide to have a specialist perform additional diagnostic procedures, such as imaging scans or biopsies.
An appointment with your GP lasts around an hour – potentially longer if your doctor performs a diagnostic X-ray in the office. However, a general practitioner is rarely the medical professional to diagnose a patient with mesothelioma.
Some patients may be referred to a pulmonologist by their GP. Pulmonologists help to diagnose and treat disorders of the lung. A pulmonologist may order additional imaging scans or perform other diagnostic procedures to test for lung abnormalities. Although pulmonologists may perform simple bronchoscopies to help clear the lungs or locate suspicious lesions, they cannot offer the more advanced techniques that thoracic surgeons can perform. Thus, pulmonologists are generally involved in the diagnostic phase.
When a general practitioner orders out-of-office imaging scans, the scans are typically performed by a radiologist. A radiologist (or a radiology technician) uses X-rays, CT scans, MRIs or PET scans to obtain a visual image of your internal organs. It's likely that you won’t ever meet your radiologist, even though radiologists play a key role in cancer recovery.
If your radiologist spots a tumor or suspicious growth, a surgeon will take a biopsy of the tissue to determine whether it is cancerous (malignant) or non-cancerous (benign). In this procedure, a fluid or tissue sample is collected from the questionable area. Results from the biopsy can determine if cancer is present, and if so, what type. The patient will then be sent to an oncologist who will develop a treatment plan.
A thoracic surgeon will perform the biopsy if the tumors affect the pleural lining of the lungs, while a general surgeon will be needed if the tumors are on the peritoneum in the patient’s abdomen. The surgeon likely can perform the entire process in one to two hours.
After a surgeon takes a tissue or fluid sample for testing, they are sent to a pathologist to be analyzed in a clinical laboratory. Pathologists study the cells collected from your body under a microscope to learn more about your disease. The findings are organized into a pathology report, which is then passed on to your doctors to help guide treatment.
Mesothelioma Doctors You May Visit During Treatment
After a mesothelioma diagnosis is made, you may see an assortment of different doctors for treatment. Leading treatment centers agree that a multidisciplinary approach to mesothelioma treatment is the most efficient and beneficial for patients. Most hospitals allow doctors specializing in thoracic oncology, radiation oncology, thoracic surgery, palliative care and critical care to collaborate on a single patient’s treatment.
The medical oncologist is typically the first doctor you will visit during treatment. This doctor manages all of the medical and pharmaceutical aspects of cancer treatment, including chemotherapy, hormonal therapy and targeted therapy. Medical oncologists also prescribe medications to help you manage your pain or symptoms. In many cases, this doctor is the head of the treatment team and coordinates your treatment plan with other specialists, such as radiation oncologists or surgeons.
Mesothelioma patients who are eligible for surgery will see a either a thoracic surgeon (for pleural mesothelioma) or general surgeon (for peritoneal mesothelioma). The first appointment with the surgeon will be a general consultation in which the surgeon chooses the appropriate procedure for the patient’s treatment goals.
After the initial evaluation, the thoracic surgeon will decide when to perform the actual surgery and schedule an appointment for the operation. The surgeon will also remain involved in the patient’s treatment throughout recovery, addressing any complications that may develop. If a patient receives surgery, surgeons often relinquish the role as team leader to the medical oncologist after the procedure.
A radiation oncologist is in charge of planning and administering radiation therapy to shrink tumors and manage painful symptoms. They will select the method of delivery and prescribe a dose to be delivered, and then pass this information along to a medical dosimetrist. The radiation oncologist oversees the actual delivery of treatment and is also involved with treatment simulations.
The medical dosimetrist is part of the radiation therapy team. A dosimetrist calculates the exact dose of radiation you will receive, and then programs the machinery for precise delivery.
A respiratory therapist will walk you through a series of exercises designed to improve your lung function. In respiratory therapy, you will undergo pulmonary rehabilitation and learn breathing techniques than can improve your oxygen uptake.
Palliative Care Specialist
Palliative care doctors specialize in treatments that improve your quality of life rather than directly impact the disease. These doctors focus only on prescribing medicines and suggesting lifestyle changes that help control your pain and other uncomfortable symptoms. Often, these doctors emphasize alternative and complementary medicine options, and they may work closely with doctors who practice alternative medicine, such as homeopathy or naturopathy.
In addition to physical health, multidisciplinary approaches to mesothelioma treatment also focus on the patient’s mental health. Because cancer is associated with a number of emotional side effects, psychologists can help you cope with often-crippling anxiety, depression or fear. Cancer psychologists are able to provide support, counseling, lifestyle assistance and stress-management coaching, among other treatments, and are often covered under medical insurance programs.