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Lung Cancer Specialists: What To Expect at Pulmonologist and Oncologist Visits

Posted on July 25, 2022
Medically reviewed by
Richard LoCicero, M.D.
Article written by
Anastasia Climan

Life with lung cancer involves appointments with many specialists for treatment and support. Understanding each specialist’s strengths and training will help you make the most of your visits.

A pulmonologist or oncologist — or both — will be your primary specialist during lung cancer treatment. Depending on your treatment plan or issues that arise along the way, you may also see surgeons, speech-language pathologists, registered dietitians, social workers, and other cancer care providers.

Appointments With the Oncologist

Oncologists are cancer specialists who can evaluate tumors in the lungs. They also estimate the potential for cancer to spread to other parts of the body.

You’ll see an oncologist for your lung cancer diagnosis and then several times throughout your treatment journey. You may also see a radiation oncologist if radiation treatment is part of your treatment plan. You may also see an oncologist before any surgeries or major treatments to review what to expect. In addition, specially trained oncology nurses may step in at times to offer education, administer treatment, or answer questions.

The oncologist’s goal is to make you aware of the best new treatments available and address your concerns. They can provide information about your specific condition and outlook. The purpose of meeting with an oncologist is to keep you informed and feeling secure and supported as you undergo cancer treatment.

What To Discuss With Your Oncologist

Examples of questions you may want to ask your oncologist include:

  • What type of lung cancer do I have?
  • Where are the tumors located?
  • Has the cancer spread?
  • Will additional tests be required?
  • Do you think I would benefit from molecular testing of my blood or tissue samples?
  • Will my cancer cells be screened for genetic changes that could affect my treatment options?
  • Where will I receive treatment? How long will it last?
  • How much time do I have to consider my treatment options?
  • Is it possible to cure my cancer? If my cancer comes back, what will happen next?
  • How can I best prepare myself for treatment?

When one MyLungCancerTeam member shared that they were meeting with their oncologist for the first time, another member advised: “Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The first visit is usually full of information, and it can be daunting. But speak up. That way, you can be proactive in the fight.”

Another member suggested bringing a loved one to the appointment. “I hope you have someone that can go with you for support and to ask questions as well,” they wrote. “It can be overwhelming with all the info the doctor throws at you.”

Writing down your questions before your appointment is another way to ensure that you get the most out of your visits. Remember, it’s perfectly normal to ask your oncologist about their experience in treating your type of cancer and about getting a second opinion before moving forward.

Researching your potential treatment options can also help you have a productive conversation. You can ask about the pros and cons of different medications and procedures, or learn how treatment may affect your life at work and at home. Discussing expected side effects will help you prepare for the road ahead.

Appointments With the Pulmonologist

Pulmonologists are physicians who specialize in treating the respiratory system, including the lungs and trachea (windpipe). They may order tests like chest X-rays, CT scans, spirometry (lung function test that measures your ability to breathe and blow air out of your lungs), and bronchoscopy (imaging that uses a small camera to take photos of air passages and collect lung tissue samples).

The pulmonologist may recommend procedures that can seem intimidating. Hearing from others who have experienced these procedures can help you prepare. For example, one MyLungCancerTeam member wrote, “My last scan showed I have a small pleural effusion. The pulmonologist wants to do a thoracentesis, but I’m a bit wary of doing it. I have no symptoms. Stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer.”

During a thoracentesis, the pulmonologist inserts a long needle through the chest to extract air or fluid from the space surrounding the lungs. The fluid that’s removed can be sent to the lab for diagnostic purposes. Having the procedure often relieves chest pain and makes it easier to breathe.

Another member provided reassurance and encouragement by saying, “I have had my right lung drained two times: The first time they got 3/4 liter of fluid, and the second time, 1/2 liter. Since then (about seven months), there has been no more fluid. It does not hurt, and you will probably breathe and feel better once the fluid is drained.”

What To Discuss With Your Pulmonologist

Good questions to ask your pulmonologist include:

  • Can you tell me what to expect during my upcoming tests?
  • Can you give me more information about my diagnosis?
  • Are there any lifestyle changes I can make to improve my symptoms?
  • Do you think anything I’m doing is making my symptoms worse?
  • How should I be exercising?
  • How often should we follow up to monitor my symptoms?
  • What should I watch out for? When should I call you or visit the emergency room?
  • Are there any restrictions on what I should be doing?

Use the time with your pulmonologist to learn more about managing your symptoms and improving your quality of life. If they can’t help you with a specific concern, they should be able to refer you to another member of the care team.

Other Specialists for Lung Cancer

Aside from your pulmonologist and oncologist, several other specialties within your cancer center can be valuable resources for you. These may include:

  • Pain management or palliative care specialists — Physicians trained to help reduce symptoms and treatment side effects
  • Physical therapists — Professionals who show you safe ways to exercise and retain muscle strength through treatment
  • Psychiatrists or psychologists — Mental health specialists who provide counseling and sometimes medication for issues like anxiety and depression
  • Radiologists — Physicians who can read the results of imaging studies, such as MRI or CT scans
  • Registered dietitians — Trained nutritionists who show you how to prevent unintended weight loss despite common symptoms like taste changes, decreased appetite, or nausea
  • Respiratory therapists — Professionals who teach and coach breathing techniques to improve lung capacity
  • Speech and language pathologists — Professionals who can diagnose and treat certain complications of lung cancer, such as trouble swallowing or speaking
  • Social workers — Professionals who provide practical resources, like help applying for financial aid, referrals to support groups, and employment or disability resources
  • Thoracic surgeons — Doctors who perform cancer surgery on the chest to remove tumors in or near the lungs

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyLungCancerTeam is the social network for people with lung cancer and their loved ones. On MyLungCancerTeam, more than 6,600 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with lung cancer.

Are you living with lung cancer? How did your first visit go with the pulmonologist and oncologist? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Richard LoCicero, M.D. has a private practice specializing in hematology and medical oncology at the Longstreet Clinic Cancer Center, in Gainesville, Georgia. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Anastasia Climan is a dietitian with over 10 years of experience in public health and medical writing. Learn more about her here.

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