Choosing a Doctor for Your Cancer Care

January 6, 2014
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In this podcast, we discuss how to choose a doctor for your cancer care.


You’re listening to a podcast from Cancer.Net. This cancer information website is produced by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, known as ASCO, the world’s leading professional organization for doctors that care for people with cancer.

Today we’ll discuss how to choose a doctor for your cancer care.                                                

When you were diagnosed with cancer, your doctor probably referred you to a doctor who specializes in treating people with cancer, called an oncologist.

It’s important to choose your oncologist carefully, because this doctor will influence every aspect of your cancer care. You should feel both confident and comfortable with this person. He or she will work closely with you, your family, and support staff throughout your treatment to give you the best care possible.

Now, let’s discuss where to find an oncologist.

You will find that oncologists work in all sorts of settings, such as university hospitals, cancer centers, community hospitals, and local offices. To find names of oncologists, begin by talking with your family doctor, health insurance company, or the local hospital. Also, several medical associations provide free, online databases of doctors to guide your search. These include ASCO, the American Board of Medical Specialties, the American Medical Association, and the American College of Surgeons. To find out more about these databases, visit Cancer.Net.

You may also want to talk with friends, family, or other patients with your type of cancer. Ask them about their experience and which doctors they have seen. It might be helpful to collect several names of possible doctors because you may want a second or third opinion before you make a decision about a doctor or treatment.

When deciding on an oncologist, there are three main factors to consider

The first factor is the doctor’s experience in treating the specific type of cancer you have. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to help evaluate the doctor’s credentials. Ask how long they’ve been seeing patients and how many patients with your specific type of cancer they see each year. You’ll want a doctor who regularly treats people with your type of cancer. This is especially important for rare types of cancer and specialized treatments.

Be sure to ask if the doctor has received advanced training or board certification in oncology. If the doctor is board certified, it means he or she has passed a high-level examination. Also, it’s important to learn if this doctor has access to clinical trials, which are research studies testing new approaches to treatment.

The second factor in choosing a doctor is to consider the oncologist’s support team. 

Along with your doctor, find out what role the other members of the health care team will play in your care. Ask if the doctor has a registered nurse, nutritionist, pharmacist, or counselor on staff. Be sure to ask how they will be involved in your care and whether they work from the same location.  If they don’t work directly with the doctor, ask if the doctor can easily refer you to these professionals. Additionally, ask what happens if you need help on holidays or weekends.

The third set of questions deals with important practical matters.

Find out if the oncologist participates in your insurance plan. It’s common for health insurance plans to allow their members to look up doctors by name or specialty. Or, the doctor’s office staff can tell you which insurance plans they accept.

Think about how convenient the doctor’s location and office hours are to you, and consider how often you’ll travel there during and after treatment. Ask if your treatment will take place at the doctor’s office or at another place, and find out if there are parking spaces reserved for patients.

If possible, you may want to schedule an appointment, called a consultation, to meet the doctor and the office staff by phone or in person. This may help you to feel more comfortable with your decision. It’s important to pay attention to how comfortable you feel with the doctor and whether he or she answers your questions in a way that you understand.

All the information you gather will help you decide which doctor is right for you.

For more information on how to choose a cancer doctor, talk with your doctor or visit Cancer.Net is supported by the Conquer Cancer Foundation, which is working to create a world free from the fear of cancer by funding breakthrough research, sharing knowledge with physicians and patients worldwide, and supporting initiatives to ensure that all people have access to high-quality cancer care. Thank you for listening to this Cancer.Net podcast.