How to Choose an Oncologist

Story by Perla Sarabia Johnson

When it comes to treating cancer, it practically takes a village. Cancer treatment involves a team of specialists known as oncologists who are trained to combat cancer through surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. These doctors explain the diagnosis and the stage of progression of cancers. Oncologists recommend treatments and discuss their side effects. Your care team will more than likely be made up of a medical oncologist, a surgical oncologist, and a radiation oncologist. Other specialists in this field include a gynecologic oncologist, pediatric oncologist, or a hematologist-oncologist who deals with blood-related cancers like leukemia. Choosing the right oncologist will be instrumental in making your treatment as smooth as possible.

The physician who diagnosed you with cancer will more than likely be the person to recommend an oncologist. You can also get recommendations from cancer survivors, you know. Check with your insurance to determine if your plan will accept the referred doctors. Only choose board-certified oncologists. Also, find out how many years of experience the specialist has in cancer care and select the most qualified one.

The particular oncologist you choose will depend on what type of cancer you’re suffering from, so pay close attention to the oncologist’s specialty and only choose one that has a good track record. Ask the doctor about their success rate of treating patients who have survived your type of cancer. Ask about the number of cases the oncologist treats annually in relation to patients having your particular cancer. Remember, you want a well-experienced doctor.

Look on websites or literature available at the practice to review patient testimonials. What they say about the oncologist’s compassion and bedside manner is essential, as you will need to remain calm and relaxed during this process. Select a physician who you feel will treat you as if you were a member of the family. See how comfortable you feel with this doctor at the consultation, and make sure all your questions are addressed thoroughly and logically, without jumps to conclusion or judgment.

Make sure that the practice has a good support team to meet your needs. This support team may consist of a registered nurse, social worker, nutritionist, pharmacist, and counselor. You will need medical and emotional help during your treatment. Knowing exactly where you will be receiving your cancer care is vital. Ask if you will be seeing the doctor at the office only or if your treatment will also be in a hospital or other location.

In case you need to reach an oncologist during non-office hours or holidays, make sure you understand their contact procedure and who will be communicating with you during off-hours. Is it your physician or an associate? Knowing the doctor’s protocol will give you peace of mind.

A cancer diagnosis can be a very challenging time in your life. Ensuring you have the right support team is the first step of many on the road to recovery.