Choosing a Doctor for Your Cancer Care

When you learn that you or a family member has cancer, the pursuit of the best possible medical care and treatment plan becomes paramount. Selecting a doctor is one of the most crucial decisions you’ll make during this challenging time. Whether continuing with the doctor who diagnosed cancer or seeking the expertise of another specialist, like an oncologist, it is essential to find a doctor who makes you feel comfortable and collaborates with you throughout the diagnosis and treatment process. Here are some key considerations to keep in mind:

1. Determine the Type of Oncologist You Need

Depending on your diagnosis and treatment plan, you may require one or more of these specialists:

  • Medical oncologists
  • Hematologist oncologists
  • Surgical oncologists
  • Radiation oncologists
  • Pediatric oncologists
  • Gynecologic oncologists
  • Dermatologic oncologists

Your cancer and treatment type will determine your main cancer doctor, but during treatment, you may see more than one kind of cancer doctor. Carefully choosing the right doctor for your specific needs will help you navigate your treatment journey.

2. Set Up Appointments with a Few Prospective Doctors

Arrange appointments with potential doctors. Check with the doctors’ offices and your insurance company to confirm coverage for these visits. If not covered, consider asking preliminary questions over the phone to help narrow down your choices. It can be beneficial to seek multiple opinions before making a final decision.

3. Check Their Credentials

Look for a board-certified oncologist with experience treating your type of cancer. Board certification is a critical factor in choosing an oncologist, as it indicates the necessary training, skills and experience in oncology. If you require a specific procedure, inquire about the number of procedures the doctor has performed and learn about complication rates.

4. Evaluate the Doctor’s Experience

Ask these essential questions about the doctor’s experience:

  • How long has the doctor been in practice?
  • How many people with your type of cancer have they treated?
  • If considering surgery or a special procedure, how many of these procedures has the doctor performed?
  • How many patients is the doctor currently treating, and how many are cancer patients?

Seek an oncologist who holds board certification and is an expert in treating your specific type of cancer. Board certification stands out as a critical factor in the selection process, signifying that the doctor has acquired the requisite training, skills and experience to deliver healthcare in the field of oncology. If you require a particular procedure, inquire about the number of times the doctor has performed it. Gain insights into the complications the doctor has encountered, as well as your risk of complications. This information equips you to make an informed decision about your cancer care.

5. Understand Your Insurance Coverage

Consider the practical aspect of insurance coverage. Ensure that the oncologist is part of your health insurance plan, and check for any limitations or additional fees. Confirm that the doctor practices at a cancer center or hospital of your choice, as doctors can only send patients to facilities where they have admitting privileges.

Questions to ask about insurance:

  • Does my insurance plan cover this visit to this doctor?
  • Do I need a referral to see the doctor?
  • Does my insurance plan cover lab work or other tests performed during this visit?
  • Will the office bill my insurance company, or will I need to pay at the time of each visit?
  • Will I be charged a co-pay for each visit? If so, how much will that be?
  • Should I bring my insurance cards?

6. Consider Their Communication Style

Choose an oncologist who is a good listener, empathetic and willing to answer your questions. Ensure that the oncologist welcomes your questions and provides clear, understandable answers. Effective communication is vital for both the oncologist and the cancer patient.

7. Check Their Availability

Ensure that the oncologist you select is readily available when needed, which helps you avoid prolonged waiting times for appointments or the need to consult with another physician in case of unavailability. The process of receiving a diagnosis can be anxiety-inducing and waiting exacerbates patient concerns. To alleviate anxiety, prioritize prompt consultations with an oncologist to quickly gather essential information.
Before your initial appointment with an oncologist, verify that they have received all relevant information and previously gathered test results. Provide copies of pathology reports, past medical records, X-rays, CAT scans and MRI scans. The more comprehensive the information available to the oncologist, the better they can accurately diagnose and provide you with well-informed guidance.
Consider seeking a second opinion as a recommended practice. Another oncologist may unveil additional treatment options suitable for your specific type and stage of cancer or validate the current treatment approach. Proactively taking charge of your healthcare decisions instills confidence that you are making the best choices for your well-being.

8. Get Referrals

Seek recommendations from various sources, including your primary care physician, family members, friends or cancer survivors. Additionally, consult your health insurance provider or local cancer support groups for guidance. Pose the question, “If you were in my position, which doctor would you prioritize?” Request at least two or three names and inquire about the specialties of these recommended doctors.
Gaining insights from others’ experiences can provide valuable perspectives on a doctor’s medical practice and operational approach. Patient reviews often cover aspects such as scheduling appointments, wait times, office environment and the friendliness of the office staff. This information allows you to gauge the level of trust patients place in the doctor, the amount of time devoted to patient care and the effectiveness of communication in addressing questions.

9. Consider the Location

Choose an oncologist located close to your home or workplace for easier attendance at appointments and treatment sessions.

10. Trust Your Instincts

Ultimately, choose an oncologist who makes you feel comfortable and confident in their treatment abilities. Trust your instincts and select someone who aligns with your preferences and values.

11. Second Opinions

Even after choosing your doctor, consider seeking a second opinion if uncertainties persist about the proposed treatment. Another oncologist may provide additional treatment options or confirm the current approach. Being proactive in your healthcare decisions instills confidence in making the right choice for your situation.
Remember, building a strong relationship with your oncologist is essential for navigating through your cancer journey effectively. Trust your choice and advocate for your well-being throughout the process.

Trust Your Instincts

Ultimately, select an oncologist who makes you feel comfortable. Trust your instincts and opt for someone you connect with.

Assess your comfort level during interactions with the oncologist by considering the following questions:

  • Did the doctor provide an opportunity for you to ask questions?
  • Did you sense that the doctor was attentive and actively listening to you?
  • Was the doctor at ease when responding to your questions?
  • Did the doctor communicate in a manner that you could easily understand?
  • Did you feel respected by the doctor? Did they pay attention to what matters to you?
  • Did the doctor discuss treatment options and inquire about your preferences?
  • Did the doctor allocate sufficient time for your concerns?

These considerations serve as valuable benchmarks to gauge the quality of your relationship with the oncologist and ensure that you feel understood and supported in your healthcare journey. It may take more than one visit before you and your doctor get to know each other.


Related Resources:

  1. Newly Diagnosed
  2. Getting a Second Opinion
  3. What You Will Need As a New Patient
  4. Sample List of Questions to Ask Your Oncologist