If you've recently heard the words, "It's cancer," your world has probably turned upside down. You have a million fears and a million questions, and you may not be sure where to turn next.
No matter what type of cancer you might have, most of these fears -- and a lot of these questions -- are universal. With the help of two nationally renowned cancer experts, WebMD answers your top 10 questions about what to do after you've been diagnosed with cancer, and how to find the best treatment.
By Darci Picoult
It began with a bump. The size of a pinhead. Innocuous. An innocuous little pinhead of a bump on my vulva. Given that my gynecologist said the bump was probably nothing, I laughed it off. Which, in turn, made my bump mad. Very mad. It wanted my attention. And so it grew. I smeared it in medicine. It grew more. More medicine. More growth. Hanukkah came. Then Christmas. A war raged between us. I went to battle in the middle of the night with salt baths and creams. Prayed for its departure...
When it comes to cancer, not all doctors and hospitals are created equal. At minimum, says J. Leonard Lichtenfeld, MD, deputy chief medical officer with the American Cancer Society, you should find a doctor affiliated with a hospital that is accredited by the Commission on Cancer. "These programs have multidisciplinary teams, information about access to clinical trials, and comprehensive, state-of-the-art care," Lichtenfeld says.
If there is a comprehensive cancer center, designated by the National Cancer Institute, near you, it's a good idea to seek care or at least an opinion from one of these top-notch centers. "It's a myth that you can't just call up a top cancer center like Sloan-Kettering, or M.D. Anderson, or Dana-Farber, and get an appointment," says Leonard Saltz, MD, a gastrointestinal cancer specialist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. "All of these cancer centers have dedicated patient access lines."
Wherever you go, ask your doctor how much experience he or she has had treating your particular type of cancer. How many cases has he or she treated this year? In the past five years?
With more common types of cancer, like breast cancer or colorectal cancer, it may be easier to find an experienced doctor near you, even in a small town. But if you have a less common cancer, like sarcoma, neuroblastoma, or pancreatic cancer, you'll likely be better off at a bigger center, Lichtenfeld says. "If you have a relatively uncommon cancer, you need to be somewhere where there's a lot of expertise and a team of people," he says.
Where you get your initial cancer care may matter most, both doctors say. "The best cancer care may require the best operations from the start, the best decisions about useful of different treatment modalities, and exposure to trials and new therapies," Saltz says. "Many people will get cancer diagnosed, quickly get an operation to remove it in the community setting, and then seek more specialized advice as to how to go from there. I think that's a mistake -- you can't put the genie back in the bottle. Most of the time, especially with solid tumors, you have time to seek a second opinion."