Finding an Oncologist
Choosing an oncologist, or cancer doctor is an important decision. Something cancer patients learn is that they are really choosing a whole team of people, not just one oncologist.
What types of oncologists may be part of my care?
Oncologists that may be part of your cancer care include:
- A surgical oncologist (uses surgery to treat cancer).
- A medical oncologist (uses chemotherapy and other medications to treat cancer).
- A radiation oncologist (uses radiation therapy to treat cancer).
There may also be a team of nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, technicians, dietitians, social workers, and other support staff. They are all important members of the cancer care team.
How do I choose the right oncologist for me?
Following some basic guidelines when choosing an oncologist can make the process easier. Here are some tips:
- Ask for referrals. Ask your primary care physician for a recommendation. Your primary care physician has sent many patients to oncologists. They often know the oncologist on a professional level. They will have feedback from previous patients they have sent to the oncologist on the quality of care that they received. You may also want to ask family members or friends if they have any recommendations.
- Look into Comprehensive Cancer Centers. These centers use a team approach to cancer treatment. If you have a consultation at such a facility, ask to meet the entire team of specialists. This is sometimes called an "interdisciplinary" or "interprofessional" team.
- Contact the American Cancer Society (ACS) or the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). The ACS maintains a list of the cancer centers and facilities in the area that deal with your diagnosis. The ASCO also has a free list of oncologists, physicians, and other healthcare professionals that are worldwide ASCO members.
- Get a second opinion. It can be helpful to meet with more than one oncologist or oncology team. You are the most important part of your cancer care team, and you should feel comfortable with the team you choose.
- Nurses can be a great resource. Most have contacts with other nurses who may work with oncologists. They may be able to give you the "inside scoop" on if a certain physician would be a good fit for you.
- Support groups. Local support groups can be helpful. You may find people who had a similar cancer diagnosis and have already had treatment. Ask them for a recommendation.
- Check which centers take your insurance. You may want to limit your search to providers that are covered by your insurance, so you don’t have to pay out-of-pocket for certain services.
- Read reviews. Reading what previous patients say about an oncologist will let you know what they do and don’t do well. Not only can reviews tell you about how the oncologist practices medicine, but it can also tell you what to expect in terms of wait times, treatment scheduling, etc.
- Choose an oncologist you are comfortable with. Decide what matter most to you whether it is personality, sex, languages spoken, education, communication style, how long they have been an oncologist, number of patients they treat per year, if they treat the type of cancer you have, if clinical trials are offered, etc. You will want to be comfortable communicating with your oncologist.
- Things to be aware of. Be careful of recommendations or input from people who "know someone who had this problem." They may not have the story straight and it may scare you rather than helping you. Also, anyone can post anything on the Internet, so don’t always trust what you read or see on websites. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Choosing your oncologist carefully is important. Cancer care is an ongoing process, and your team will manage your care for many years. Not only will they manage your medical care, but they will also manage the emotional impact that cancer will have on you and your family. When making the final decision remember that you are in control. The final decision is yours.