Finding an Oncologist â€“ Asking the Right Questions
No one can really anticipate receiving a diagnosis of cancer. Traditionally people speak of cancer in hushed voices and using fatalistic language. The modern reality is that cancer treatments advanced remarkably over the last twenty-five, ten, or even five years. Cancer need not be a terminal diagnosis and survival rates continue to improve as treatment strategies improve. Your battle against cancer begins with finding an oncologist and that endeavor is best accomplished by asking the right questions.
In almost all cases, once the cancer diagnosis is made or suspected, your primary care physician will refer you to an oncologist. Most PCPs realize that cancer treatment is well outside their scope of expertise. If your primary care physician wants to direct your cancer care, make sure that he or she is employing an adequate number of specialists including medical oncologists, radiation oncologists and surgeons with the proper subspecialty training. In most cases, cancer treatment will be coordinated by a medical oncologist who can access various cancer specialists on short notice. Getting timely treatment can greatly improve your outcome in many cases.
While you will likely be referred to an oncologist, you may also want to choose your own. Choosing your own doctor is a patientâ€™s right; however, remember to check if the oncologist that you choose will accept your insurance type or is a pre-approved provider. Insurance companies are relatively good about paying for cancer treatment and oncologist bills but remember that treatments for cancer are some of the most expensive medical interventions that exist. Taking some time to verify your coverage can prevent unexpected bills during your period of recovery.
One basic distinction that should be addressed is whether the specialist is trained in the treatment of your type of cancer. For solid tumors, an oncologist is fully trained to help. For cancers of the blood such as leukemia and lymphoma, a hematologist might be a better choice. Many specialists are trained in both hematology and oncology, but it is okay to ask.
As you are finding an oncologist, ask them if your cancer can be further characterized or classified. Some tumors come from very particular cells with certain properties. Some sub-types of cells can be specifically targeted by drugs. Ask your doctor if the tumor can be targeted even more specifically than traditional therapeutics will allow. Knowing this information can greatly affect your outcome.
Finally, choose an oncologist that works closely with radiation oncologists, surgeons and other medical professionals. One of the costs of developing better cancer treatments is that there administration is more complex. It is fundamentally important that a single, cohesive treatment plan be developed to treat your cancer and that all of the cancer specialists involved in your care are aware of it and agree to it. When medical, radiation and surgical oncologists work in unison to fight cancer, they can achieve miraculous things.