Choosing a Doctor for Your Cancer Care

Aprobado por la Junta Editorial de Cancer.Net, 03/2021

After you are diagnosed with cancer, you will need to choose the doctor who will manage your cancer care. You may continue seeing the doctor who diagnosed you with cancer or you might go to another specialist. Often, this doctor is an oncologist. Oncologists specialize in treating cancer.

Cancer treatment is an ongoing process. It is likely that you will continue to be treated by your oncologist and other members of your cancer care team for a long time. This is because they will provide medical care as well as help you navigate the emotional impact of cancer on you and your family. That's why it is so important that you feel comfortable with your doctor and the rest of your cancer care team.

How to find an oncologist

Oncologists practice in different settings. These include cancer centers, university hospitals, community hospitals, and local offices.

To find an oncologist, start by asking your primary care physician or family doctor. You can also call your health insurance company or nearby hospitals. Sometimes, patient advocacy groups are a source for specialists in a specific field. Family and friends can also be a good resource for local doctors and for talking through your options.

In addition, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) provides a free, searchable database of ASCO member oncologists worldwide.

Other medical associations also offer searchable databases:

Start by collecting several names of prospective doctors. These may be helpful if you want a second or third medical opinion before you choose an oncologist and begin treatment. Learn more about seeking a second opinion.

How to choose an oncologist

Choosing an oncologist even from a few names can feel overwhelming. You might feel like you do not know how to choose between the different options during this stressful time. Start by collecting the important pieces of information about each doctor. This can be done by doing research online by typing each doctor's name into a search engine or by calling their practice's phone number. Many oncologists offer a biography about their educational background and practical information about their office hours, practice locations, and other details on their cancer center's or practice's website.

Here are some questions that can help guide your research and/or when you talk with a potential oncologist for the first time that can help you make a decision:

What is your experience treating cancer? Before deciding to work with a specific doctor for your cancer care, find out about their experience and their practice, such as:

  • Are you board certified in oncology? Board certified means they have passed a high-level examination related to treating cancer.

  • How long have you been practicing medicine?

  • How many patients with this type of cancer do you treat each year?

  • How many patients with this stage of cancer do you treat each year?

  • Do your patients have access to clinical trials? Clinical trials are research studies involving volunteers.

Depending on your treatment plan, you may need a medical, surgical, and/or radiation oncologist. This is because cancer care often includes different types of treatments, such as medications, surgery, and/or radiation therapy. Your care may include more than one type of oncologist or other types of doctors. Learn more about the different types of oncologists.

Who else will be involved in my cancer care? Different types of cancer care settings have other oncology care providers who might be involved in your care. These can include physician assistants, nurse practitioners, registered nurses, social workers, registered dietitians, pharmacists, and counselors. Ask what type of other health care providers will be or could be involved in your care. Learn more about the members of the oncology team.

Do you take my insurance? Some insurance plans place limits on which doctors you can see without paying additional fees. You should find out which doctors you are considering are an in-network provider for your specific insurance coverage. This means that they accept your insurance.

What are your office policies? It can be helpful to know what hours the doctor's office is open, if there are multiple locations, and how to reach the doctor during off-hours if necessary, such as evenings and weekends. This can also be a chance to learn about any special services for patients, like reserved parking spaces, discounted parking fees, and transportation to and from the hospital. Learn more about questions to ask when making an appointment.

Can I set up some time to meet you and your staff? Arrange to meet the doctor and staff. You can do this in person or through a telehealth visit. This can help you get a sense of how you and the team will work together. Take note whether the doctor and the other health care team members talk with you in a way that you understand and that they answer your questions clearly. It is important to feel comfortable with their communication systems and style.

Finding cancer care in rural areas

If you live in a rural area, it can be challenging to find nearby cancer care. There may not be different choices for a local cancer specialist, or you might decide to receive treatment from a doctor who is not specialized in treating cancer. Or sometimes, such as for rare types of cancer, there might not be anyone near where you live who can provide treatment.

Your only option may be to travel long distances to receive treatment. Traveling to receive cancer care can be expensive and time consuming. However, there are things you can do to make traveling for treatment easier and safer. You can also get help with travel for cancer treatment through a national organization. Find a list of such organizations on the Financial Resources page (under "Travel assistance") of this website.

Finding a new doctor

Sometimes, you may need to find or add a new doctor while your cancer treatment is ongoing. You can use the same resources and suggestions as above to find a new doctor. Remember to also transfer medical records and information from your current health care team to the new team. Learn more about how to find a new doctor and make sure they have the information they need.

Related Resources

Taking Charge of Your Care

What I Want My Patients to Know Before They Leave My Office

Building a Relationship with Your Cancer Care Team

When the Doctor Says "Cancer"

Choosing a Cancer Treatment Facility

More Information

National Cancer Institute's Finding Health Care Services

MedlinePlus' Choosing a Doctor and Hospital for Your Cancer Treatment