How to Form Your Cancer Care Team

Forming your cancer care team

August 23, 2021

Clinical Contributors to this story:
Getting a cancer diagnosis is overwhelming, but having the right people to support you can make all the difference in the world. This article outlines the people who may be on your cancer care team, and their specific roles while caring for patients.

Several health care providers form a cancer care team

Cancer patients may see several doctors and other health care providers throughout the cancer treatment process. Although each patient has a unique treatment plan, it’s likely that you’ll meet with some of these health care providers:

  • Surgical oncologists – surgically remove cancerous tumors
  • Medical oncologists – administer chemotherapy, immunotherapy and/or targeted therapy
  • Radiation oncologists – target cancer cells with radiation therapy
  • Plastic surgeons – reconstruct body parts (like breasts) after cancer surgery
  • Social workers – provide emotional support and coping skills throughout treatment
  • Nurse navigators – stay with you throughout your cancer journey, helping you access the right care and services while providing support and guidance

Nurse navigators play a special role for cancer patients

One critical member of every cancer care team is the nurse navigator, a registered nurse who specializes in oncology. This is the team member who coordinates your cancer care plan. Nurse navigators offer personalized care to each patient, explaining complex information and providing practical support and emotional guidance.

“A nurse navigator is an invaluable part of any cancer care team, because they provide knowledge and resources that are personally relevant to each patient,” says Martin Gutierrez, M.D., chief of thoracic oncology at Hackensack University Medical Center. “It’s often difficult for patients to figure out the intricacies of the health care system, but nurse navigators make the process easier, serving as a guide to help each patient become acclimated to their care plan.”

Nurse navigators can:

  • Help you keep track of your appointments
  • Explain the role of each doctor who treats you
  • Talk through your treatment options with you
  • Answer any questions that you may have throughout the treatment process
  • Work as a liaison between you and your doctors, coordinating your care
  • Help resolve any barriers to care, allowing you to get the treatment that you need
  • Keep you informed about your progress
  • Ask about your mental health and offer emotional support resources
  • Act as a confidant, if you need to talk
  • Connect you with social workers, therapists, nutritionists and other providers
  • Share information about support groups, as well as other resources for cancer patients
  • Advocate for you and teach you how to advocate for yourself
  • Help you recognize milestones during your cancer treatment
  • Prepare you for life after treatment, as a cancer survivor


During and after cancer treatment, nurse navigators focus on quality of care and quality of life for their patients. They help to ensure that doctors and other health care providers see beyond the notes in your medical chart and view you as an individual with personal goals and priorities, not just a number.

Nurse navigators are a critical piece of the cancer journey puzzle,” says Dr. Gutierrez. “They prioritize each patient’s medical needs, emotional requirements and personal goals to help to ensure that patients don’t fall through any cracks during the treatments process.”


The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.
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