Whether it is you or someone you love that has recently been diagnosed with cancer, it’s important to find a oncologist you feel comfortable with. A cancer diagnosis (mine was breast cancer) means making many life-altering decisions, often in a matter of days. These include important choices about what kind of treatment you need/want and which doctor will provide it. And how do you narrow down a list of cancer doctors that might be vast and intimidating? But where do you begin?
An oncologist, a doctor who specializes in cancer, manages your care and treatment from beginning to end. This means everything from explaining your diagnosis and suggesting courses of treatment to delivering your care and helping you cope with treatment side effects.
At diagnosis, your doctor generally gives you a list of Oncologist in your area. Start with this list. Reach out to friends, family and coworkers who may have encountered an oncologist (whether through their own experiences or someone they know.) Ask for referrals and reasons why they recommend that cancer doctor. Take these recommendations into consideration, but you don’t have to base your entire decision on them.
Does your narrowed-down list of oncologists have services that are covered by your insurance plan? Make sure to check this before choosing a doctor. Cancer treatments can get expensive and insurance coverage can help dramatically.
Yes, you reached out and got recommendations from family and friends, but it’s a good idea to collect a minimum of three recommendations from your General Practitioner, previous patients, hospital referral programs or other sources outside of your family and friends. I already had a Plastic Surgeon and asked him who he would use if he was in this situation. I also asked him to build my team.
Once you have a very narrow list (three or four candidates), it is okay to call the doctor’s office and start asking questions, such as: how easy is it to get an appointment with the doctor? Does the doctor have other physicians employed at his practice? Which tests are standard? Who normally responds to phone-in questions and concerns – is the doctor available around the clock? These are all important questions to ask before you make your final selection.
The real test is communication. Talk to the doctor. Get a feel for their personality, treatment style and overall vibe. You should be able to talk with your oncologist about any subject regarding your treatment without feeling silly or embarrassed. A good oncologist will take the time to explain anything you don’t understand and will listen to all of your concerns and answer any questions and respect your decisions regarding your treatment. This is when you make your final decision as to whether or not they are the right doctor for you. You don’t have to be stuck with the doctor you choose if you meet with him or her and discover they’re not right for you after all.
Finding an oncologist is a big task – but it’s an important one. Whether you’re looking for a new cancer doctor for yourself or a loved one, the above is intended to make the process as simple and concise as possible.
Essential Question to Ask the Oncologist
- What information do I need to help me make a decision about my treatment?
- What information do you use to make treatment recommendations for me?
- What are your realistic goals for my treatment?
- What are the chances that I can be cured?
- What are my chances of a long-term response with good quality of life?
- Are there clinical trials available to me?
- How will I feel during treatment? Will I be able to work?
- Take care of my family? Travel? Be around young children?
- What help will I need in managing the side effects of treatment? When and for how long?
- Should I consider a second opinion regarding my diagnosis and treatment?
- Are there different approaches to treating my kind of cancer?