Which Type of Doctor Should I See and When?

Written by

Laura McGirt, MD, Carolinas Medical Center/Levine Cancer Institute

When should I see a specialist?

Being diagnosed with cutaneous lymphoma can be a difficult time. Significant anxiety can develop in having a new diagnosis of not only a cancer, but also one that is very rare, and of which many people are not aware. Additionally, as cutaneous lymphoma is a cancer of white blood cells within the skin, it can be even more confusing trying to figure out which physician (dermatologists, hematologist, oncologist) to work with.

After you are diagnosed with cutaneous lymphoma, with skin biopsy or blood work, I recommend (if possible) seeing a specialist within the field at least once. Most of the specialist locations are available on the Cutaneous Lymphoma Foundation website. You will likely undergo a workup to fully stage your disease - physical exam, blood work, and possibly imaging (CT scan, etc…). This will help your physician better develop a treatment plan for you. 

What specialist should I see?

If your disease has been diagnosed only within the skin, it is reasonable to seek out a dermatologist. You will likely need skin-directed therapy and this is generally accomplished through topical creams and gels as well as phototherapy, which is most often found in dermatology offices. Alternatively, if your disease has been identified in the blood or lymph nodes, you may want to consider seeing a hematologist or oncologist, in addition to a dermatologist. Your treatment will likely consistent of both skin-directed as well as systemic therapy (pills, shots, infusions). 

As some hematologists specialize in non-malignant blood conditions, and conversely some oncologists do not routinely treat blood-based malignancy, it can be helpful for you to inquire about the conditions treated by your physician prior to your visit. Additionally, there are dermatologists who may not be comfortable treating cutaneous lymphoma. Again, it will be of benefit to reach out to the clinic to ensure he or she will be able to appropriately care for you. 

For illustrative purposes only.
DO I NEED TO SEE AN ONCOLOGIST, DERMATOLOGIST OR BOTH?
Cutaneous lymphoma affects white blood cells that live in the skin, so do you need to see a dermatologist or oncologist or both? Our cutaneous lymphoma experts provide answers to the question: "When should I see a oncologist vs. dermatologist?"

EXPERT PRESENTERS

Stuart Lessin, MD, Medical Director, KGL Skin Study Center

Larisa Geskin, MD, Associate Professor of Dermatology, University of Pittsburgh

Pierluigi Porcu, MD, Associate Professor of Internal Medicine, Division of Hematology-Oncology, Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center

Marianne Tawa, RN, MSN, ANP, Nurse Practitioner, Dermatology and Cutaneous Oncology, Dana Farber Cancer Institute

What if I can't see a specialist?

If you are unable to see a cutaneous lymphoma expert or specialist, you should establish care with your local dermatologist or hematologist/oncologist. I recommend discussing with them whether they are comfortable treating your specific diagnosis. You can also provide them with the Cutaneous Lymphoma Foundation website, as there are educational materials not only for patients but also for physicians. Additionally, many physicians have reached out to me for consultations over email and the phone. If you are unable to travel to a specialist, your local physician may be able to speak with one to help better guide your care. 

 

Learn more recommendations for managing your cutaneous lymphoma when a specialist isn't nearby.

Learn More

OBTAINING A PROPER CUTANEOUS LYMPHOMA DIAGNOSIS

Uncommon diseases pose a number of challenges, including difficulty getting an accurate diagnosis. A definitive diagnosis will help inform treatment decisions and potentially yield better patient-related outcomes over time.

Staging Cutaneous T-cell Lymphoma

Staging describes how much of the body is affected by cutaneous lymphoma and where. Identifying your stage is important in determining appropriate treatment.

Finding Support

Finding Support
Cutaneous lymphoma will present you with challenges. But, try to remember that you do not have to cope with your illness alone.
WHAT CAN I DO NOW?
GET MORE INFORMATION
CLF provides free publications filled with helpful information.
Attend an Event
The Cutaneous Lymphoma Foundation provides free educational events both live and online.
Get Support
We can connect you with support for patients and family and caregivers alike.