Most people see more than one health professional during the course of their treatment for metastatic breast cancer.
The number and kinds of health professionals treating you at any one time will depend on the stage of your cancer, where you live and where you are being treated.
I found a good GP, whom I see regularly, and I have a good oncologist. They both listen, check that I understand their advice and talk optimistically about the future – they give me hope!
In some centres the clinicians treating you will be part of a multidisciplinary team, where everyone involved in your care meets regularly to discuss your progress.
If you are unsure about whether your specialists are working in a multidisciplinary team, you can ask them about this and whether your care has been discussed in one of their regular multidisciplinary team meetings.
Members of your treatment team might include:
You might also find the services provided by the following specialists helpful:
Palliative care specialist
Palliative care specialists include doctors, nurses, social workers and others who have specific skills and who work as a team to help people from soon after their diagnosis. They can assess and manage physical symptoms such as pain and poor appetite and can help to ensure your home environment is safe and comfortable.
Many people fear that seeing a palliative care specialist means they are nearing the end of life. However, palliative care specialists can provide care at any stage of your treatment for metastatic breast cancer.
Receiving palliative care does not mean that you need to stop your breast cancer treatments. You can continue to be treated to control your cancer and access palliative care services when you need them, for example, to address pain management or assist with the emotional impact of your diagnosis.
Find out more about palliative care.
Social workers can help you and your family to cope with the impact metastatic breast cancer has on emotional, psychological and practical issues, such as employment, finances, accommodation and legal issues. They can arrange care at home if needed.
Oncology social workers can provide counselling and support for you and your family.
Many people with metastatic breast cancer will seek counselling at some stage. A psychologist can help you and your family talk through relationship issues, concerns such as fear, loss and grief, and can help with strategies for getting the most from life.
Your GP may refer you to a psychiatrist if you have depression or other emotional needs that may benefit from specialist care.
Physiotherapists can help you to manage some of the side effects of metastatic breast cancer and its treatment. They can help to relieve pain without medication and improve your movement and activity. They can also help you to manage lymphoedema.
Lymphoedema practitioners use specialist massage, compression garments, bandaging, exercise therapy and other therapies to help manage lymphoedema.
Occupational therapists can visit your home and suggest changes that would make your life easier, including home supports and special equipment.
Nutritionists and dietitians can help you to assess your diet and provide advice on nutrition. They can also help with problems such as poor appetite, nausea and constipation.
Pastoral care worker
Pastoral care workers can help you to adjust to your situation and explore issues related to spirituality, hopefulness and meaning, regardless of your faith or religious belief.
Pharmacists can explain possible side effects of treatments and medications and suggest ways to alleviate some of them.
With the number and variety of health professionals involved in your care, sometimes you may feel overwhelmed with keeping your treatment team aligned to your needs.
Here are some tips can help you manage and simplify your experience with your treating team:
For people with metastatic breast cancer who have had an earlier experience with breast cancer, you do not necessarily need to see the same specialists.
While you may be referred to a particular specialist, you have a choice in who you see. Word-of-mouth is a powerful reference, and recommendations from other people can be valuable.
If you are unhappy about who you have been referred to, we encourage you to seek a second opinion. If you are a private patient, choice of your team is in your hands.
Let’s be Upfront about navigating a breast cancer diagnosis as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
Let’s be upfront about death, dying and mortality.
Let’s be upfront about pain, side effects and palliative care.
Let’s be Upfront about navigating relationships with your medical team.
Let’s be Upfront about living in a rural area following a breast cancer diagnosis.
Let’s be Upfront about living with metastatic breast cancer.
Let’s be upfront about the side effects of hormone-blocking therapies for the treatment of hormone receptor positive breast cancer.
*This article does not provide medical advice and is intended for informational purposes only.
Please consult a medical professional or healthcare provider if you're seeking medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment.