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How do I choose a doctor for my cancer care?

Stuart A. Linder, MD
Plastic Surgery
Finding a doctor who specializes in cancer care is critical. Medical oncologists are trained in both internal medicine and board certified in cancer therapy. These physicians have both the experience and judgement to develop a plan (chemotherapy, radiation therapy, ) and work with oncological surgeons to manage your cancer. 
Going through the process of choosing a doctor can take time, and many people are tempted to rush through it to start their treatment sooner. Keep in mind, though, that most people with cancer have enough time to be sure that they get the best care possible. Ask the doctor who found your cancer whether you need to take action right away or if you can take a short but safe amount of time to check out all your options.
Carefully choosing the doctor you need now (such as a good surgeon, radiologist, and/or oncologist) will pay off for years to come. Your relationship with this person will probably last through treatment into long-term follow-up care.
Before you start looking for a doctor, think about the qualities you want your doctor to have. For instance:
  • Choose a doctor who has experience with your type of cancer. Studies show that doctors have better success treating a condition if they have a lot of experience with it.
  • You will probably need a doctor who is part of your health plan (often called a preferred provider) and/or accepts your health insurance. Otherwise, you may have to pay for your health care yourself. (For more on this, call us at 1-800-227-2345 for a copy of Health Insurance and Financial Assistance for the Cancer Patient, or read it at cancer.org)
  • Pick a doctor who has privileges (is able to practice) at a hospital that you are willing to use. Doctors can only send patients to hospitals where they have admitting privileges.
  • Choose a doctor you feel comfortable with. Languages spoken, gender, ethnicity, and educational background may be important factors for you. You may also have strong feelings about personality and bedside manner. Some people prefer their doctors to have a business-like manner, while others value a doctor who can help with their emotional health as well as their medical needs. Many people whose illnesses require long-term treatment prefer a friendly relationship with their doctor.
The next step is to schedule appointments with a few doctors. The most important question to ask them is how much experience they have in treating your type of cancer. If you are meeting with surgeons, find out how often they perform the type of surgery you need, how many of these surgeries they have performed before, and what their success rate is. 

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.