Looking for a surgeon to treat colon cancer

Timothy C. Hoops, MD
Last Modified: March 24, 2002


Dear OncoLink "Ask The Experts,"

My mother has just been diagnosed with colon cancer. She has been referred to a surgeon. What credentials should we look for in determining if the surgeon has the appropriate training and skills to treat her? What questions should she ask the doctors? What answers to those Questions should she listen for?  


Timothy C. Hoops, MD, Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Gastroenterology Division at the University of Pennsylvania and Director of Gastroenterology at Penn Medicine at Radnor, responds:

In most cases, any general or colorectal surgeon should be able to do a good job with the surgery required to try to cure colorectal cancer. You want to know that the surgeon has done a good number of these types of surgeries before and understands the implications of the procedure such as taking enough lymph nodes to survey for any spread of the tumor. This generally means that they have been trained in a reputable program that allowed them to learn well the techniques of these procedures and have continued their experience after the training.

They should be able to explain what will happen and what can be expected. You want someone who will follow her after the surgery until healing is complete. Obviously you want someone who has a compatible personality; nothing sours an experience like this if you can't communicate well with your doctor. In general, choosing a surgeon is no different from choosing any physician. Use your other physicians for recommendations. Ask your friends who have had similar experiences. And feel free to shop. This is really about being an informed consumer. If you see a doctor and don't feel comfortable with one, maybe you should check out another.