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Cancer: Should You See a Specialist?

How do you find a specialist?

Ask your family doctor for a recommendation. If there’s a cancer support group for your particular type of cancer in your area, ask members there for names. If you get a chance to interview the doctor before you start treatment, ask some questions, including

  • What are the alternatives (if any) to the treatment you’ve recommended and why did you recommend that treatment over the others?
  • What are the side effects of the treatment or treatments you recommend?
  • What is the likelihood of being cured? If incurable, how will you benefit from each treatment option discussed?

Your doctor’s responses to these questions can tell you a lot about how thoughtful this doctor will be during your course of treatment. Do you understand what he’s saying? If not, does he take the time to explain himself again? You should also ask how many patients he’s treated with your particular type of cancer and at your stage, and where and how he’s been trained in his specialty.

Look for a Doctor and Hospital That Participates in Clinical Trials

Ask if they participate in clinical trials – centers that do are more likely to be up to date on the most current treatments. And some research has found that doctors who participate in cancer clinical trials took better care of all their patients. If you’re having surgery, ask the doctor’s role in the surgery, as well as the qualifications of her team.

Certain specialists are hard to find and if traveling to one for treatment isn’t feasible, you can still take advantage of her expertise. Get a second opinion to make sure [the specialist] agrees with your treatment plan, or can help develop a treatment plan, even if the treatment is going to take place at a place closer to home, says Gilligan.

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Reviewed on December 20, 2011

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