Mesothelioma, as well as any asbestos-related disease, requires an array of medical specialists to assist you. Your primary care provider (or family doctor) will likely refer you to other specialists. Your family doctor will most likely continue to see you as your treatment reaches various stages. However, you will be treated or receive medical advice at different times by oncologists, surgeons, pulmonologists, and pathologists. All of these doctors, as well as other medical professionals, will comprise your medical team. Each specialist will have a precise role in your treatment and care.
Primary Care Physician
Your family doctor, sometimes referred to as your primary care physician, is someone you are comfortable with because he or she has treated you over the years. This physician serves in a “gate keeping” role with respect to your medical team. Your primary care physician will make referrals to specialists and provide information to allow you to make meaningful medical decisions. He or she will also monitor your general health and will likely provide treatment for any acute or chronic conditions that arise.
Pulmonologist and Pathologist
A pulmonologist is a doctor who possesses specialized expertise in the diagnosis and treatment of lung diseases. Because pleural mesothelioma is a lung disease caused by asbestos exposure, your primary care physician will in all likelihood expeditiously refer you to a pulmonologist. The pulmonologist will conduct a thorough and extensive lung examination. The pulmonologist’s lung examination routinely encompasses chest CT scans, chest films, and pulmonary function studies. Should suspicious findings arise from a review of the chest films, a battery of serial x-rays will likely be undertaken.
It is often the function of a pulmonologist to perform a biopsy. A biopsy is the removal of tissues or cells for testing purposes to determine the presence or extent of disease. The tissue samples will then be sent to a laboratory where it will be analyzed by a pathologist.
A pathologist is a highly trained medical specialist in the nature and causes of diseases. The pathologist will conduct a microscopic examination of the samples and check for the presence of malignant cells. The pulmonologist will then receive the results of the pathologist’s examination. If the results from the review by the pathologist reveal that further tissue samples are required for a diagnosis, or that surgery might be helpful to remove the tumor, your pulmonologist will refer you to a thoracic (or chest) surgeon for evaluation.
Following a diagnosis of cancer, or if cancer is suspected, a medical oncologist will soon evaluate you. Oncologists are referred to in layman’s terms as cancer doctors. In more precise medical terms, an oncologist is involved in the practice of medicine that deals with tumors. This includes the development, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of tumors. Pulmonologists or primary care physicians typically refer patients to oncologists.
People diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma often find that his or her oncologist will become the most important member of the treatment team. The oncologist will provide critical information relating to your treatment option. This includes surgical, chemotherapy, and radiation treatment alternatives. Your oncologist will often refer you to doctors who specialize in these areas and will be a valuable source of information about clinical trials, cancer centers, home health care professionals, social workers, and community resources. Like your primary care doctor, you must feel comfortable with and have confidence in your oncologist. You must be able to openly discuss your concerns and feel comfortable in asking for direction. Also, you must feel that your oncologist’s office is a place where you are treated by his or her staff with respect and dignity.