Breast Cancer: Choosing Your Doctors
Since few cancers require emergency treatment, take time to learn about the diagnosis as well as the doctors and hospitals you choose to treat breast cancer.
How to Find a Breast Cancer Specialist
Your own primary care doctor is probably the first source to ask for a referral to cancer specialists. Your doctor will know from experience who is the most appropriate cancer specialist in your area. Also, you can search online for reliable web sites of hospitals, medical organizations like the American College of Surgeons or American Society of Clinical Oncology, universities, medical schools, or the federal government. These are all acceptable ways to find cancer specialists and learn more about the disease.
Once you have a few names, take note of:
- How many procedures or cases the doctor has been involved with
- Areas of special interest or research
- Which hospitals the doctor is affiliated with.
- Whether the doctor is board-certified in the area of specialization.
- Any fellowships completed in cancer care (surgery, radiation therapy, medical oncology)
- Where the doctor was trained
Hospitals offer free and confidential telephone or online physician referral services that offer information about a doctor's professional background. Insurance companies can provide names of cancer specialists or referral requirements.
Meeting Your Breast Cancer Team
Cancer is a disease best treated by a team of experts trained in different fields. Depending on the course of treatment, a breast cancer patient will likely meet several members of the cancer team.
- Surgery may be performed by a general surgeon or a surgical oncologist, who is a surgeon who specializes in treating cancer, with many specializing in breast cancer.
- A medical oncologist oversees the course of cancer treatment for most patients and also manages any chemotherapy patients might receive.
- A radiation oncologist is a doctor who will develop a treatment plan for radiation therapy if it's required.
Depending on the size of the hospital or institution, the team can also include plastic surgeons, pathologists, radiologists, medical specialists in obstetrics/gynecology and other areas, oncology nurses, pharmacists, social workers, dietitians, and more.
Questions for the Breast Cancer Specialist
By preparing a list of questions about your care before the first appointment, you'll be better able to understand treatment. Asking questions will also help you become actively involved in your care.
Choosing a Hospital to Treat Breast Cancer
When deciding on a breast cancer treatment facility, you should first learn:
- Whether the hospital has experience in treating your condition
- How the hospital was rated by outside organizations (such as the American College of Surgeons or the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations)
- If the hospital is conveniently located
- If your health insurance covers care at the hospital
- If the hospital offers educational and social programs for cancer patients
- Whether the hospital is involved with cancer research and offers clinical trials