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Choosing a doctor and hospital for your cancer treatment

When you seek cancer treatment, you want to find the best care possible. Choosing a doctor and treatment facility is one of the most important decisions you will make.

Some people choose a doctor first while others may choose a cancer center first.

As you look for a doctor or a hospital, keep in mind that these are your choices to make. Make sure that you are comfortable with your decisions. Finding a doctor and a hospital that you like and that meet your needs will help you get the best care possible.

What to Consider When Choosing

Think about what type of doctor and what type of care will work best for you. Before choosing, meet with a few doctors to see how you get along. You want to choose a doctor you feel comfortable with.

Some questions you might ask or consider include:

  • Do I want or need a doctor who specializes in my type of cancer?
  • Does the doctor explain things clearly, listen to me, and answer my questions?
  • Do I feel comfortable with the doctor?
  • How many procedures has the doctor performed for my type of cancer?
  • Does the doctor work as part of a larger cancer treatment center?
  • Does the doctor participate in clinical trials?
  • Is there a person in the doctor's office who can help set up appointments and tests, offer suggestions for managing side effects, and provide emotional support.?

If you have health insurance, you should also ask if the doctor accepts your plan.

Your Cancer Care Team

You may already have a primary care doctor. Now you need another doctor who specializes in cancer treatment. This doctor is called an oncologist.

There are many different types of cancer doctors. Often, these doctors work together as a team, so you will likely work with more than one doctor during the time of your treatment.

Medical oncologist. This doctor is an expert in treating cancer. This is the person you will see most often. As part of your cancer care team, your oncologist will help plan, direct, and coordinate your treatment with other doctors, and manage your overall care.

Surgical oncologist. This doctor is a surgeon with special training in treating cancer. This type of surgeon does biopsies and can also remove tumors and cancerous tissue. Not all cancers require a specialized surgeon.

Radiation oncologist. This is a doctor who specializes in treating cancer with radiation therapy.

Radiologist. This is a doctor who will be performing and interpreting different types of x-rays and imaging studies.

You also may work with doctors who:

  • Specialize in your specific type of in the area of the body where your cancer is found
  • Treat complications that occur during cancer treatment

Other important members of the cancer care team include:

  • Nurse navigators, who help you and your doctor coordinate your care, keep you informed, and are available for questions
  • Nurse practitioners, who work along with your cancer doctors to provide your care

Finding a Cancer Doctor

A good place to start is to ask the doctor who diagnosed you. Also make sure to ask what type of cancer you have and what type of doctor you should see. You need this information so you know what type of cancer doctor you should work with. It is a good idea to ask for the names of 2 to 3 doctors, so you can find the person you feel most comfortable with.

Along with asking your doctor:

  • Ask your health insurance for a list of doctors who treat cancer. It is important to make sure you work with a doctor covered by your insurance.
  • Get a list of doctors from the hospital or cancer treatment facility where you will be receiving treatment. In some cases you may want to choose the facility first, then find a doctor who works there.
  • Ask any friends or family who have experience with cancer for a recommendation.

You can also check online. The organizations below have searchable databases of cancer doctors. You can search by location and specialty. You can also see if the doctor is board certified.

Finding a Hospital

You will also need to choose a hospital or facility for your cancer treatment. Depending on your treatment plan, you may be admitted to the hospital or get care in a clinic or outpatient facility.

Make sure the hospitals you are considering have experience treating the type of cancer you have. Your local hospital may be fine for more common cancers. But if you have a rare cancer, you may need to choose a hospital that specializes in your cancer. In rare cases, you may need to travel to a cancer center that specializes in your cancer for treatment.

To find a hospital or facility that will meet your needs:

  • Get a list of covered hospitals from your health plan.
  • Ask the doctor who found your cancer for suggestions about hospitals. You can also ask other doctors or health care providers for their ideas.
  • Check the Commission on Cancer (CoC) web site for an accredited hospital near you. CoC accreditation means that a hospital meets certain standards for cancer services and treatments -- www.facs.org/cancerprogram/index.html.
  • Check the National Cancer Institute (NCI) web site. You can find listings of NCI-designated cancer centers. These centers provide state-of-the-art cancer treatment. They also may focus on treating rare cancers -- www.cancer.gov/researchandfunding/extramural/cancercenters.

When choosing a hospital, find out if it takes your health insurance. Other questions you may want to ask include:

  • Can my cancer doctor provide services at this hospital?
  • How many cases of my type of cancer has this hospital treated?
  • Is this hospital accredited by The Joint Commission (TJC)? The TJC confirms whether hospitals meet a certain level of quality -- www.qualitycheck.org/Consumer/SearchQCR.aspx.
  • Is the hospital a member of the Association of Community Cancer Centers? -- www.accc-cancer.org.
  • Does this hospital take part in clinical trials? Clinical trials are studies that test whether a certain medicine or treatment works.
  • If you are looking for cancer care for your child, is the hospital part of the Children's Oncology Group (COG)? The COG focuses on the cancer needs of children -- www.childrensoncologygroup.org/index.php/locations/.

References

American Cancer Society. Choosing a Doctor and Hospital. Updated February 26, 2016. Cancer.org. www.cancer.org/treatment/findingandpayingfortreatment/choosingyourtreatmentteam/choosing-a-doctor-and-a-hospital. Accessed August 4, 2016.

Cancer.net. Choosing a Cancer Treatment Facility. Updated August 2015. www.cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/managing-your-care/choosing-cancer-treatment-facility. Accessed August 4, 2016.

National Cancer Institute. How to Find a Doctor or Treatment Facility if You Have Cancer. Updated June 5, 2013. Cancer.gov. www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Therapy/doctor-facility. Accessed August 4, 2016.

Wagner EH, Ludman EJ, Aiello Bowles EJ, et al. Nurse Navigators in Early Cancer Care: A Randomized, Controlled Trial. JCO. Jan 1, 2014:12-18. PMID: 24276777 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24276777.

Review Date 9/30/2014

Updated by: Christine Zhang, MD, Medical Oncologist, Fresno, CA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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