For people diagnosed with cancer, one big decision is choosing an oncologist, or cancer doctor that can help most.
It is important to ask a lot of questions to help you decide.
Here are several things you can do to find the doctor best suited to your needs.
Ask your primary care doctor for a referral
This is because your primary doctor may be more familiar with your health conditions than other doctors and have experience in finding an expert best suited to handle the specifics of your case.
Meet with more than one doctor
Usually it’s helpful to compare treatment recommendations from more than doctors. You can see if suggestions from one provider are supported by others.
Choose a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center
These national cancer centers have received recognition for their expertise.
They’re also high-volume, with doctors who represent all specialties — and who bring distinct expertise to the table when deciding your best treatment approach.
National Cancer Institute maintains a list of its designated cancer centers.
Choose treatment centers that use a multidisciplinary approach
This means each cancer patient can receive input from many experts from different research fields.
For example, the patient can be helped by specialists that include surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, oncology nurses and social workers.
All of these experts can work together to determine your best treatment plan. This can greatly benefit your health condition.
Choose a major cancer center
Most experts in high-volume centers are willing to work with your local oncologists and physicians.
Usually, part of the plan — surgery, for example — is executed in the center; post-surgery treatment happens locally.
Ask cancer doctors about their credentials and expertise
Cancer care experts expect to receive questions from patients and should not be offended.
It is good to start with: “My reading has led me to understand it is wise to ask certain questions” when consulting a doctor.
Some questions to ask an oncologist: Are you board certified in your specialty? How many patients have you treated with this type of cancer?
How many patients with this type of cancer are seen at the center? Is there a team that works together to decide my best choice of treatment?
Some questions to ask a surgeon: How many surgeries do you perform each year? It’s important for a surgeon to have at least 15 to 20 per year.
What are your complication rates? What is your 30-day operative mortality rate?
Do your homework
It’s great to be proactive and learn about treatment options by turning to the internet and other sources of information.
Some treatments may sound great online, but they may not be safe or well-proven. You should leave room for your doctor to give an overall perspective.
Cancer doctors can provide better context about what’s best for you.
They should be able to explain the potential risks and benefits of a treatment. They can also tell you the physical, emotional and financial burdens of that option.
Seek a second opinion if necessary
Whether you’re at a medical crossroads or considering a change in the course of treatment, your doctor should be open to considering options both locally and at other cancer centers.
Consider a clinical trial
Clinical trial often test new treatments or medications. If a treatment you are interested is in a clinical trial, when the treatment is outlined, ask about clinical trials.
Your involvement can help improve treatments and outcomes for future patients.
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