Choosing Your Cancer Team
Finding an Oncologist
The first step on the cancer treatment journey is to find an oncologist (medical or surgical) who inspires trust. It may seem overwhelming to choose an oncologist. First, start with referrals from your primary care physician, specialist, or insurance carrier. Talk to family and friends who may have recommendations.
Here are some things to consider when choosing an oncologist:
- Is the oncologist board certified?
- How much experience does he or she have in treating my type of cancer?
- Do you feel comfortable talking with this doctor? Does he or she listen well?
- Is the staff compassionate? Is the environment a good one or do you feel rushed?
- What hospital(s) does this oncologist see patients in?
- What are the office hours?
- What if you have an emergency? Can you call?
- Can this doctor be contacted after hours?
You will be spending a lot of time with the oncologist and staff nurses and technicians, so it’s important to feel comfortable with them.
As you and your doctor explore the treatment options open to you, make sure you find out the answers to the following:
- What are the chances my cancer will come back after this treatment?
- What do we do if the cancer comes back or the treatment doesn’t work?
- Will I lose my hair?
- Will it hurt?
- Will there be scars?
Choosing a Cancer Center
Choosing where to receive treatment is just as important as selecting an oncologist. It’s good to know the differences between hospitals. Here are some guidelines:
- Academic cancer centers: These are affiliated with medical schools. At these locations, high priority is put on research. They are usually located in large cities.
- Community cancer centers: The main focus is on patient care.
- Cancer centers: These are noted for a high quality of science and research.
Some questions to ask before choosing where to get your treatment include:
- Volume: How many cancer survivors do they treat annually?
- Travel: How far do you want to travel? Would there be extra costs?
- Cost: Is the hospital covered by your insurance plan?
- Accreditations: What accreditations does the hospital hold?
Specific Questions To Ask Your Doctor
- Based on my family and medical history, am I at increased risk for cancer?
- Are my children or other relatives at higher risk for cancer?
- What is the stage of my cancer?
- Who should I see: A surgeon? Medical oncologist? Radiation oncologist? Explain the team to me.
- What treatments do you recommend?
- Will my treatment require a hospital stay and, if so, for how long?
- What side effects should I expect?
- How long will they last?
- Are there long-term risks to this treatment?
- How common are these risks? Can anything be done to reduce the chance of them happening?
- Is this treatment likely to cure my cancer? If not, what treatments can extend my life?
- What is the chance of a recurrence?
- If a recurrence happens, what can I do?
- What follow-up tests will be done and at what point?
- Are there clinical trials I should consider?
- How will my normal activities change as a result of treatment?
- Should I follow a specific diet?
- Can you recommend support groups in the local area with people I can talk to?
- Will my sexual function be affected?
When you first meet with your doctor, it can be helpful to bring someone else with you. That way, there’s someone else to hear what is said and to ask questions. Here are some other tips for talking with your doctor:
- Write out your questions ahead of time.
- Write down the answers your doctor gives you.
If you don’t understand something, ask your doctor to say it in a different way. It’s important that you understand, and you have a right to know.