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Lung Cancer Specialists

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: January 2017.

People with lung cancer may have several doctors and other health care professionals on their health care team to help manage their disease and its effects on quality of life. Health care professionals may be generalists or specialists. Generalists are those who consider the patient as a whole, while specialists are focused on one particular system or area. There is evidence to support that specialists have the edge when it comes to current knowledge in their area of expertise. Regardless, depending on the patients’ needs, both generalists and specialists can play an important role.1

Thoracic surgeon

A thoracic surgeon is a medical doctor who specializes in surgery of the lungs, esophagus, and other organs in the chest. After medical school, thoracic surgeons complete either a 5-year general surgery residency (surgical training) followed by a 2- or 3-year cardiothoracic surgery residency program, or enter into a 6-year integrated cardiothoracic surgery residency. Thoracic surgeons treat lung cancer and other diseases that affect the esophagus and chest wall.2

Thoracic surgical oncologist

A thoracic surgical oncologist is a medical doctor who specializes in surgical treatment of lesions of the thoracic wall (chest wall), the lungs, or mediastinum (the membrane between the lungs). Thoracic surgical oncologists may also treat the heart, esophagus, or trachea. In addition to medical school and surgical residency, thoracic surgical oncologists also have training in surgical oncology – the use of surgery to remove cancerous tissue in and around the lung.3,4

Radiation oncologist

A radiation oncologist is a medical doctor who specializes in treating cancer using radiation therapy. Radiation therapy involves high-energy radiation targeted to decrease tumor size and kill cancer cells. The radiation oncologist determines the exact area to be treated using imaging techniques, such as computed tomography (CT) scans, as well as the total radiation dose that will be delivered and the safest angles for delivering the radiation.5,6

Medical oncologist

A medical oncologist is a medical doctor who specializes in the treatment of cancer using chemotherapy or other medications, such as targeted therapies. The medical oncologist oversees a patient’s care from diagnosis through treatment and helps manage any symptoms or treatment side effects.5


A pulmonologist is a medical doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of lung disease. Pulmonologists perform tests and biopsies, and they treat a variety of respiratory issues related to lung cancer.4

Palliative care specialist

Palliative care refers to managing the symptoms from serious illnesses, like lung cancer. Palliative care specialists, or pain/symptom management specialists, are medical doctors who have additional training in managing side effects from cancer as well as training in pain management.4,6

Oncology nurse

An oncology nurse is a registered nurse with special training in cancer treatment. Oncology nurses administer chemotherapy, monitor side effects, and provide education about treatment to patients and their family members.4

Respiratory therapist

A respiratory therapist is a licensed health professional that assesses and treats patients with acute and chronic cardiopulmonary conditions. Respiratory therapists are experts in machines and devices used to administer respiratory care treatments, and they help lung cancer patients improve their breathing capacity.4,7


A registered dietitian is a credentialed health professional who is an expert in diet and nutrition. People with lung cancer may consult with a dietitian to help them create a diet plan that includes proper nutrition, helps them maintain weight, and helps manage side effects during treatments like chemotherapy.6

Social worker

A social worker is a licensed health professional that works with individuals or families to restore or enhance their capacity for social functioning. Lung cancer greatly impacts a person’s quality of life. Oncology social workers specialize in helping cancer patients with a comprehensive and collaborative approach to care.8,9

Mental health counselor/therapist

Lung cancer is associated with high levels of depression and anxiety with some studies estimating one in four people with lung cancer experiences periods of depression or other psychosocial problems during and after treatment. Other studies have shown rates of 43-47% of patients with lung cancer experiencing depression. Many patients with lung cancer may benefit from seeing a mental health counselor or therapist. Counselors and therapists can provide coping skills to help lung cancer patients deal with the psychosocial and emotional aspects of living with a serious, life-threatening disease.10,11

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