During the course of your prostate cancer diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up care you will likely be working with a number of different types of physicians. It is important to have a basic idea of what each of these physicians does and what type of training they have undergone.
- General Practitioner
The first physician that most men see for the majority of their medical problems or routine screening is their general practitioner. There are two types of general practitioners. Both types of physicians are qualified to perform the digital rectal examination and to make the first interpretation of your PSA test, as well as overseeing your other general medical issues.
- Family Practitioner
This type of physician is trained to treat patients from infants to adults and may also do some obstetrics (delivering babies). Family doctors have to complete three years of training in family medicine after medical school before they can practice independently. They typically do less work in hospitals and more work in clinic or office settings than internists.
Internists are trained to treat adult patients only. They do not see children or deliver babies. They have to undergo three years of training in internal medicine after medical school –- much of which is spent working with patients in the hospital. They typically split their time between seeing patients in their office and seeing patients in the hospital.
- Family Practitioner
Urologists are physicians who are trained specifically to deal with conditions of the male reproductive organs and of both the male and female urinary tracts. They are considered to be sub-specialized surgeons who must also have knowledge of internal medicine, gynecology, and other fields in order to treat the variety of urological conditions that they see. Urologists are required to complete a five-year training period following medical school -- one year of which is in general surgery and the remainder in urologic surgery.
A visit with the urologist is probably the most common next step after having an irregularity detected by your general practitioner. In most areas, urologists are available and are the most likely surgeon to perform prostate surgery, but in some more rural areas there may be no urologists available.
- Radiation Oncologist
Radiation oncologists are physicians trained to treat cancer and other conditions with radiation. They are involved in the evaluation of the cancer patients and plan exactly how the radiation treatments will be administered. They must undergo a five-year training period after medical school which includes one year of general medicine and four years of radiation oncology.
If you are considering radiation therapy as an option for treating your prostate cancer, then you should plan to visit a radiation oncologist for their input about your specific set of circumstances.
- Medical Oncologist
Medical oncologists are trained in the proper use of chemotherapy and other therapies to treat cancer. Because prostate cancer is not usually treated with chemotherapy, you are unlikely to see this type of physician. Medical oncologists have completed three years of internal medicine training as well as three to four more years of sub-specialty training in medical oncology.
Radiologists are physicians that use medical imaging technologies such as x-rays, CT scans, and MRI scans to diagnose medical conditions. Additionally, some radiologists (interventional radiologists) are trained to use imaging technologies to treat certain conditions. Radiologists must complete five years of training after medical school including one year of general medicine and four years of radiology.
You will likely only have direct contact with a radiologist if you undergo certain specific imaging tests to diagnose or stage your cancer or an interventional radiologist is involved in your care (for example by performing a lymph node biopsy).
Pathologists are physicians who are trained to diagnose diseases by examining body tissues and fluids or by autopsy. When you undergo a biopsy or any tissue is removed from your body (such as lymph nodes or the prostate itself), a pathologist is the doctor who will examine it both with the naked eye and under a microscope for evidence of cancer or another disease.
Pathologists must complete four to five years of training following medical school.