Doctors in cancer care

You are likely to meet many different types of doctors during your cancer care experience.

This page will help you understand their role in your care.

General Practitioners (GPs)

Your GP is responsible for your family's medical care at home. They look after your general health and will also be involved in your cancer care.

They are usually the first doctor you will see if you have symptoms that might be cancer but will continue to be important throughout your experience. They can:

  • Refer you for tests and investigations
  • Refer you to specialist hospitals
  • Prescribe some of your cancer medication
  • Discuss any concerns with symptoms, side effects or your care
  • Arrange nursing or other care for you at home

GPs keep in touch with the other healthcare professionals involved in your care and will be sent information about any hospital appointments and admissions for your records.

Medical students

Medical students are people training to become doctors.

They learn by observing, treating and caring for patients, so you may meet them in some appointments.

If you would rather talk privately with your doctor, you can refuse to have medical students in the room. You have a right to privacy and this will not affect your care.

Hospital doctors

There are many different kinds of doctor or surgeon involved in diagnosing, treating or caring for cancer patients in hospital.

Some are more senior than others and may include:

  • Consultants – the most senior specialists. They supervise the work of a team of doctors
  • Specialist registrars – senior doctors training in a particular area of care
  • Junior (foundation) doctors – fully qualified members of the team in their first or second year after medical school

Types of hospital doctor

A doctor's job title refers to the speciality they work in.

The types of doctor involved in your care will depend on your type of cancer and any other needs you may have.

If you are unsure of their role you can ask them to explain.

  • Anaesthetists
    Give drugs or gases to make you sleep and keep you comfortable during surgery. Some are specialists in pain relief.
  • Chest physicians
    Specialise in treating and caring for people with chest or breathing problems, including lung cancer. They are also called respiratory physicians or thoracic-medicine physicians.
  • Dermatologists
    Treat skin disorders, including skin cancers.
  • Endocrinologists
    Diagnose and treat hormone imbalances and problems by helping restore the normal balance of hormones in your system. 
  • Gastroenterologists
    Diagnose and treat patients with cancer of the digestive system.
  • Haematologists
    Haematologists specialise in treating blood disorders, including leukaemia and lymphomas.
  • Oncologists
    Specialise in the medical treatment of cancer. A Clinical Oncologist specialises in treating patients with radiotherapy and may also use chemotherapy and hormone therapy. A Medical Oncologist specialises in treating patients with chemotherapy.
  • Paediatric Oncologists
    Diagnose and treat children who have cancer.
  • Palliative medicine doctors
    Specialise in treating the symptoms of cancer, like pain or sickness.
  • Pathologists
    Examine tissues and cells under a microscope to decide if they are normal or abnormal.
  • Physicians
    The general name for medical doctors. There are many different kinds of physician, such as chest physicians and dermatologists. 
  • Radiologists
    Examine images of the body using x-rays and body scans and perform specialist examinations.


Surgeons in the UK are known by their title even though they are doctors. For example, Mr, Mrs, Ms, Miss or Prof.

They may specialise in a type of cancer or in a particular area of the body.

Some of the surgeons who treat cancer are.

  • Colorectal surgeon
    Specialise in diagnosing and operating on cancers of the colon, rectum and bowel.
  • ENT surgeons 
    Specialise in cancers of the head, neck and throat.
  • Gynaecologists and gynaecological surgical oncologists 
    These are surgeons who specialise in diagnosing and operating on gynaecological or women’s cancers.
  • Neurosurgeons 
    Specialise in operating on the brain and central nervous system.
  • Oral and maxillofacial surgeons 
    These are surgeons who specialise in the mouth and face.
  • Orthopaedic surgeons 
    Specialise in bones and connective tissue.
  • Plastic surgeons 
    Also known as cosmetic surgeons. In cancer care, they use reconstructive surgery to rebuild parts of the body removed by surgery or damaged by cancer.
  • Thoracic surgeons and cardiothoracic surgeons 
    Specialise in operating on the lungs and chest.
  • Urologists or urological surgeons
    Specialise in diagnosing and treating the urinary system. They will be involved in cancers such as prostate, bladder and kidney.

Maggie's is here with you

Our Cancer Support Specialists are here to listen to your concerns and help you find the information and help that's right for you:

Last review: Oct 2021 | Next review: Oct 2022

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