For Patients

Choosing Your Provider

If you or a loved one have been newly diagnosed with cancer, deciding where to seek treatment can seem overwhelming. It is important that you make informed choices about your oncologist and your treatment, taking an active role in order to regain some sense of control.

An Oncology specialist is a physician who focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of different cancers. This physician has extensive knowledge of the different signs and symptoms of cancer, as well as the various methods of treatment. Oncology specialists diagnose cancer through methods such as biopsy, endoscopy, x-ray, blood tests, ultrasound, and different forms of nuclear medicine. Oncology doctors treat cancer through surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, hormone therapy, or antibody treatments.

An oncologist is a physician who trained in internal medicine before becoming a cancer specialist. The oncologist you choose will be your first point of contact, and will guide you through your journey with cancer. He or she will be your primary care physician during your cancer treatment, and it is of utmost importance that you are comfortable and confident in their decision making. Your oncologist, with others, will:
  • Determine the tests needed to make a final treatment decision with you
  • Prescribe and oversee your treatment
  • Direct the follow-up tests needed to determine the next steps
Ideally, your oncologist will collaborate and communicate with all the other doctors and healthcare professionals involved in your care.

Your oncologist will be an important teammate with you in your care. You should take the time to understand your oncologist’s capabilities and strengths, and you should feel confident that he or she is the best choice for you. Be sure to ask plenty of questions, and make sure you understand the answers.

Also, note that your care will not only be in the hands of the physician, but also an entire team within the practice, including support staff, nurses and medical assistants. You will want to consider some aspects of the entire practice:
  • Is the practice located near your community so that travel will not be an issue?
  • Is there adequate parking?
  • Does the staff answer the phone promptly?
  • Is the office atmosphere comfortable and inviting?
  • Does the physician practice at your hospital of choice if necessary?
  • Does the oncologist treat you, your family and his colleagues with care and respect?
  • Are the staff members personable with a friendly, caring attitude?
  • Do they take the time to answer questions comfortably, without a hurried demeanor?
  • Does the practice look upon its role as your primary doctor confidently at this time?
  • Do they provide the education, support, side effect management, family relations and health team management that are necessary for optimal treatment?


Questions To Ask When Choosing Your Oncologist:

Are they Board Certified or eligible?

All physicians are licensed to ensure a general competency to diagnose and treat patients. Those who have chosen to specialize in a particular disease or body system receive significant additional training. Once they have achieved a certain level of proficiency, physicians are eligible to be certified by a national organization, for example the American Board of Internal Medicine, which ensures consistent high quality care. Board Certification, or eligibility for Board Certification, means that your doctor has achieved adept training in the complexities of medical oncology. After three years of internal medicine training, an extra two or three years of cancer training and education are required in order to be Board Eligible. A designation of “Board Certified” indicates your physician has intensified his studies, and successfully completed examinations for this distinctive certification.

How much experience do they have treating my type of disease?

Most practicing oncologists have proficient experience in treating common cancers. Should your specific cancer be uncommon or rare in nature, you should feel comfortable asking if and how the medical oncologist will consult and collaborate with other physicians and oncologists to guarantee you receive the most up-to-date and effective treatments for your specific disease.

How do they partner with other health team members?

Tumor boards are a treatment planning approach in which medical oncologists discuss cases in detail with surgical and radiation specialists. Ask your doctor if he participates in tumor boards. Discuss in detail how he will coordinate your care, and treatments for any conditions other than cancer, with your primary care physician and other specialists.

Do they welcome second opinions?

A physician who is confident in their treatment recommendation will normally welcome a second opinion, and should be open to the request. Occasionally, an oncologist will suggest a second opinion from a fellow colleague with exceptional experience pertaining to a specific tumor type.

How well does the oncologist listen to you, and how comfortable do you feel with the responses?

You should feel comfortable with your oncologist at this point in the conversation, and feel that he or she listens and respects your opinions. How does the oncologist respond to questions or requests for clarification? Throughout discussions about your cancer care, your oncologist may use words that are difficult for you to understand. Be sure to bring it to his or her attention so they can communicate more effectively with you. It is in your best interest to feel comfortable and to completely understand your oncologist  during your cancer journey.

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