Your care team
When you are diagnosed with a blood cancer, it impacts and affects your physical health, your mental and emotional health and your everyday life. For this reason, a team approach is taken to your care and support. Medical professionals, allied health professionals and other service and support providers work together to coordinate your care and treatment and support you and your family throughout your blood cancer journey.
Often called multidisciplinary care (MDC), this team approach is best practice in cancer care and makes sure you receive the best and most appropriate care and treatment and can help improve your quality of life.
You may also hear this called medical and supportive care. Medical care refers to the therapies and treatments you receive for your disease and supportive care refers to the help you receive for your your psychological, emotional, physical, practical and information needs.
The people who make up your care team may change over time to make sure you receive the care and support you need at each stage of your blood cancer journey. This list introduces you to some of the health professionals you are likely to meet, what they do and how they can help you.
Blood Cancer Support Coordinator (BCSC)
As a part of the Living Well team across Australia, the Leukaemia Foundation Blood Cancer Support Coordinators (BCSCs) are here to help you through your blood cancer journey.
If you are living with a blood cancer, or caring for someone with blood cancer, you can contact the Leukaemia Foundation and get in touch with a BCSC.
Each of the BCSCs has expertise and extensive experience in the health field, whether that be in blood cancer, psychology, dietary requirements or getting back to work.
BCSCs can help with a range of issues that you may face in your cancer journey such as transportation to and from your appointments, accommodation or access to allied services. The Living Well team are an excellent source of information and support for you and your family, so don’t hesitate to call 1800 620 420 to speak to a Blood Cancer Support Coordinator.
For more information, visit: www.leukaemia.org.au/our-services/
Cancer Care Coordinator
Navigating the healthcare system can be a daunting task for anyone. Following a diagnosis, you can expect to meet a haematologist or oncologist, radiotherapists, chemotherapy specialists, dieticians and exercise physiologists – just to name a few.
In some treating hospitals, patients can access a cancer care coordinator to help manage their appointments, provide information and education about their particular blood cancer and treatment, as well as make referrals to allied health services.
Unfortunately, not all hospitals or states have cancer care coordinators available. Speak with your doctor or a blood cancer support coordinator at the Leukaemia Foundation to see if you can access one.
Though it is not always necessary, chemotherapy is a common treatment for various kinds of blood cancers. In some hospitals your chemotherapy will be administered by a specialist nurse trained in administering chemotherapy. In other hospitals or treating centres there may be a specialised chemotherapy team who visit patients on the various wards to administer the chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy can be administered in different ways: including oral tablet or capsule , intravenously (through an injection through a vein) or sometimes intrathecally (into the spinal canal). Regardless of which method your treatment protocol requires, a nurse will be present to explain the associated side effects (and the management of them), to administer the intravenous drip and to answer any questions you might have.
Chemotherapy can be a daunting and intimidating treatment, which is why chemotherapy nurses are always available to patients and offer their support.
Clinical Nurse (CN) \ Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)
Clinical Nurses and Clinical Nurse Specialists, while being registered nurses, have specialist training and experience in the clinical area of which they work. They will also have the added responsibility of leadership and management of the ward, including bed management.
CNS’ closely monitor patients’ conditions and can identify when something has changed – for the better or worse – and respond accordingly.
Families and patients alike will usually get to know their CNS well as they will often be the best source of information and updates.
Clinical Trials Nurse
In clinical trials, which usually take place in hospitals, specialist doctors, researchers and clinical trials nurses administer a new kind of treatment. If you are participating in a clinical trial, your clinical trials nurse will be your main point of contact.
Clinical trials nurses work closely with patients to ensure they meet all trial requirements and to monitor their health, treatment and any side effects that may arise.
Though the doctors will make the ultimate decision as to whether a new treatment is working positively or negatively, a clinical trials nurse will be on hand at all times to assist the doctor and patient navigate the foreign environment.
Community Nursing\Royal District Nursing Service
Community nursing and the Royal District Nursing Service (RDNS) allows you to continue your treatment while in the comfort of your own environment.
They provide mobile nursing services that can help patients who find it difficult to attend a doctor’s clinic or hospital for treatment. A community nurse can also visit your workplace to asses any dangers or advise any adjustments that may need to be made.
As the RDNS does not require a doctor’s referral, you can call on this service as you need.
For more information, visit: https://www.boltonclarke.com.au/
Similar to a psychologist or therapist, a counsellor can help you and your family cope with the stress, emotional and mental health effects of cancer.
Those living with a blood cancer (and their families) can benefit greatly by seeing a counsellor as living with a life-threatening illness can cause great stress, anxiety and depression. A counsellor can help you manage your feelings about your diagnosis, adjust to a new kind of normal, address any relationship difficulties or help you manage treatment and side effects.
Counsellors can specialise in different emotional problems and situations but are unable to prescribe medication as they are not licensed doctors.
Some hospitals will have their own counsellors available, so ask any of your attending medical team how to access a counsellor.
For more information, visit: https://www.theaca.net.au/index.php
A dietitian is a trained expert in providing information about nutrition, allergies, dietary needs and their correlation to your physical health and wellbeing.
When undergoing any kind of cancer treatment, special diets (such as neutropenic diets) are often required to give both your body the energy needed to cope with the stress of medications and treatment as well as ensuring you are eating a safe diet when your immune system is low. You may also need some advice on dealing with side effects (such as appetite loss or gain, weight loss or gain, or new sensitivities to taste and smells).
For more information, visit: https://daa.asn.au/
An exercise physiologist is similar to a physiotherapist in that their focus is to help a patient maintain or regain their mobility and agility despite an illness or injury.
Exercise physiologists are particularly helpful for those with chronic illnesses such as blood cancers, as they will create a tailored exercise or rehabilitation program to help maintain or restore physicality while undergoing treatment or during recovery. Keeping active has been shown to have a positive impact on wellbeing, treatment outcomes and mental health for people living with cancer.
The exercise physiologist will also be able to advise what exercises and movements are safe as well as beneficial to various parts of the body.
For more information, visit: https://ahpa.com.au/allied-health-professions/exercise-physiology/
General Practitioner (GP)
Your General Practitioner, commonly known as a GP, is usually your first point-of-call for any ailments you may have – whether it be for a runny nose or something more serious.
GPs are generalist doctors with a broad range of knowledge who can diagnose and treat a variety of disorders and conditions. Your GP can also refer you to a specialist for further investigation, treatment or management.
Having a regular and positive relationship with a GP is particularly important for those living with a blood cancer, as you will have regular contact with them as they monitor your condition.
To stay up-to-date with your condition, your GP will receive regular correspondence from your specialists and treating team. This will result in your GP becoming a great source of information for you on your condition, treatment for any cancer-related symptoms and side effects, as well as advising any allied health services you may require.
For more information, visit: https://www.racgp.org.au/
General Practice Nurse
When you visit your local General Practice Clinic, you may visit the clinic’s nurse rather than the doctor. The clinic nurse can perform a range of tasks without a doctor such as injections and immunisations, small skin procedures, wound dressing and bandaging and so on.
Those with a blood cancer may see the GP nurse to have blood drawn, instruct you on how to self-administer medications if needed, or advise how to manage mild side effects – advice for any serious side effects should be advised by a doctor.
Haematologists are doctors that specialise in blood and blood-producing organs. Haematologists have an extensive amount of knowledge about blood cancers, blood diseases and disorders, genetic disorders and blood cell mutations.
Blood cancer patients will have a dedicated haematologist to diagnose their condition, analyse their situation, advise treatment options and manage treatment.
If your GP has discovered something irregular in your blood test, or suspect you may have a blood disorder, your GP will need to write you a referral to a haematologist before you can see one.
For more information, visit: https://www.hsanz.org.au/
Occupational Therapist (OT)
The term ‘occupation’ is quite broad when describing Occupational Therapy. All aspects of life such as independent care, taking care of others, working, hobbies and social interaction are all considered ‘occupations’ which an OT can help you navigate.
Occupational therapy is a very fluid kind of healthcare, especially with those living with a blood cancer, as priorities and needs change along with your condition. Your relationship with an OT may begin by them helping you manage your cancer-related fatigue, then assist you with your transition back to work.
For more information, visit: https://www.otaus.com.au/
An oncologist is a specialised doctor who has undergone additional training to be an expert on different forms of cancer.
There are three main types of oncologist: medical, surgical and radiation. Each type of oncologist will commonly work with another to identify the best treatment or prevention options for a patient. An oncologist will also oversee and refer supporting treatment such as dieticians, psychologists or exercise physiologists.
Depending on the severity or progression of a patient’s cancer, an oncologist will either look to diagnose, treat or prevent the cancer spreading.
For more information, visit: https://www.moga.org.au/
Palliative Care Nurse
Patients who are terminally ill will often be given the option to either stay in the Palliative Care Unit of their hospital, move to a specialist palliative care facility or go home. Whichever option the patient chooses, palliative care nurses are available to assess and manage ongoing treatment.
These specialist nurses have undergone additional training to not only help manage symptoms as they arise, but also deal with the gravitas of the situation the patient and their family are facing as they go through this difficult phase.
For more information, visit: https://palliativecare.org.au/
A pathologist is a qualified doctor who specialises in diseases and their origins. Pathologists primarily investigate the causes and types of diseases through body tissue and liquid samples, such as blood.
The primary role for pathologists when dealing with blood cancer patients is to analyse the patients’ blood to identify if any cancers are present, and if so, what sub-type and its severity. Oncologists and haematologists will then use the pathologist’s report to treat their patients.
For more information, visit: https://www.rcpa.edu.au/
A pharmacist is a qualified professional who dispenses medications and medicines to patients. A doctor may write a prescription for a medication, but a pharmacist must be the one to dispense that medication to a patient.
Hospital pharmacists are often in direct talks with the treating team of blood cancer patients, as they are responsible for mixing the liquid medicine that is used intravenously as part of chemotherapy. In some occasions, the pharmacist will need to mix the liquid only hours before the medicine is administered as it can have a very short shelf life.
Many pharmacists also work in laboratories testing, researching and manufacturing new kinds of medications and conducting clinical trials.
Pharmacists are experts at knowing what kinds of medications are suitable for various people and what side-effects they may cause. Pharmacists will also be able to advise you of what medications may react in a negative way when combined with another medication.
Blood cancer patients may regularly need to visit their local pharmacist to obtain whatever medications their haematologist or oncologist has prescribed.
For more information, visit: https://www.pharmacyboard.gov.au/
Phlebotomist is the clinically-accurate title for someone who draws blood, but they are regularly called blood nurses, blood technicians or commonly mislabelled as pathologists.
Though phlebotomists are not doctors, they are qualified in their field and have numerous duties beyond drawing blood, such as comforting and guiding nervous patients, assisting patients with adverse reactions, and (most importantly) phlebotomists are extremely careful with labelling and tracking samples.
You may meet a phlebotomist in a GP clinic, hospital or designated blood collection centre.
Blood cancer patients will regularly visit a phlebotomist as many blood samples are needed throughout the cancer journey to monitor progress. Inpatients in hospitals may more often have their blood taken by a tending nurse.
Patients will visit a physiotherapist to treat, diagnose or evaluate an issue with their mobility and physiology. Physiotherapists are experts in the body’s movement, functions and how to minimise or restore movement following an injury or illness.
Many blood cancer patients will experience some kind of muscle pains, aching or physical limitation in their mobility due to either their illness or as a side effect of treatment.
Oncologists and haematologists often promote and refer patients to see a physiotherapist.
For more information, visit: https://www.physiotherapyboard.gov.au/
Psychiatrists are qualified doctors with a speciality in psychiatry, which means they are specialised in human behaviour, mental illness and associated treatments.
Using a range of approaches, whether it be through counselling, cognitive therapy or medication, psychiatrists are able to identify and treat issues in human behaviour including mood disorders, behavioural issues or perceptive glitches.
Blood cancer patients with mental health disorders will need both their psychiatrist and oncologist or haematologist to work in tandem to treat both problems without medications conflicting.
For more information, visit: https://www.physiotherapyboard.gov.au/
Psychologists undergo much more extensive training than counsellors and are trained to identify and support patients with mild or serious mental illnesses.
Though psychologists are highly trained, they are not doctors, and are therefore not able to prescribe medications. If the psychologist feels a patient is in need of medication, they may refer them on to a psychiatrist.
For more information, visit: https://www.psychology.org.au/
If your oncologist or haematologist have advised you will need radiation treatment to fight your blood cancer, you will then meet a radiotherapist (also called a radiation therapist).
Following your diagnosis from your oncologist or haematologist, the radiotherapist will be the one to coordinate and devise a treatment plan using radiotherapy. It is the radiotherapist that will be responsible for calculating the x-ray machine’s settings and administering the radiation therapy.
The radiotherapist will also monitor your progress and be able to treat and advise how to combat any side effects that can arise, such as nausea, fatigue or skin irritations.
There are many different kinds of treatments for various kinds of blood cancers, one of them being radiotherapy – where high doses of targeted x-rays are used to kill cancer cells.
If you are undergoing this treatment, a radiotherapy nurse may be on hand not only to help with the procedure, but to help give advice about the treatment process, what side effects may occur and how to manage them.
Radiotherapy nurses are a very good resource to help patients and their families manage their general health as well as the healthcare system.
Nurses are an invaluable resource in any hospital or medical facility. Any patient in hospital will usually have a lot more interaction with their nurse on duty than their doctor.
Though a doctor will be the one to diagnose an illness or prescribe medications, clinical nurses monitor your condition and manage your health while you’re in hospital.
Nurses may administer and manage intravenous (IV) lines, observe and record patient conditions, educate patients on their condition and quite often, offer emotional support to patients and their family.
Doctors of varying levels of experience and seniority are often found in each public hospital ward.
Typically, patients will come into contact with a resident doctor – a doctor that visits, diagnoses and treats a patient. The registrar is a more senior doctor who oversees the resident staff, interns and student doctors in that ward.
If a resident doctor comes across a patient the is particularly challenging for any reason, the registrar can be called upon to help treat the patient.
If the registrar is unable to help, the next level of seniority will be the senior consultant (haematologist/oncologist).
Dealing with a blood cancer can cause a range of issues for patients and their families beyond the physical illness, whether that be anxiety, depression, financial stress or the need for childcare.
Social workers are trained professionals who can assist with many of these issues and help guide you to the best course of action to help resolve any issues outside of your medical condition.
There are many different kinds of social workers who specialise in a particular field and they will often make referrals to other healthcare professionals.
For more information, visit: https://www.aasw.asn.au/
Not many blood cancer patients would expect to see a speech pathologist as part of their treatment or recovery plan, but some do.
Speech pathologists don’t only look to solve problems with speaking. Speech pathologists are also experts on the throat and swallowing, which can be damaged while undergoing radiotherapy or chemotherapy. These treatments, although necessary to the patient, can lead to types of pneumonia or swallowing difficulties.
Any doctor of your treatment team will be able to write you a referral if they feel you would benefit from seeing a speech pathologist.
For more information, visit: https://www.speechpathologyaustralia.org.au/
Last updated on June 19th, 2019
Developed by the Leukaemia Foundation in consultation with people living with a blood cancer, Leukaemia Foundation support staff, haematology nursing staff and/or Australian clinical haematologists. This content is provided for information purposes only and we urge you to always seek advice from a registered health care professional for diagnosis, treatment and answers to your medical questions, including the suitability of a particular therapy, service, product or treatment in your circumstances. The Leukaemia Foundation shall not bear any liability for any person relying on the materials contained on this website.