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Cancer Health Center

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Your Cancer Specialists

What Should You Look for in a Cancer Specialist?

  • Experience. A cancer specialist should have a lot of experience treating the specific type of cancer that you have. Ask how many cases your doctor has treated over his or her career and over the past year. How many is enough? There’s no easy answer. But you should have the feeling that your doctor is treating people like you on a regular basis.
  • Good training. Those framed degrees on a cancer specialist’s wall aren’t just for decoration, says Terri Ades, DNP, FNP-BC, AOCN, director of cancer information at the American Cancer Society in Atlanta. Look at them closely. Where did your doctor train? Ask if he or she has other special qualifications or areas of interest. Ask if he or she has published any relevant journal articles on cancer treatment.
  • Board certification. Board-certified doctors are trained in a specific area of medicine and must pass an exam testing their knowledge and skill. So if your doctor is board-certified -- in medical oncology or surgery, for instance -- you can be confident that he or she is highly qualified in that field. That said, board certification is not available for every subtype of cancer treatment. So not being board certified is not necessarily a bad sign.
  • Openness to your questions. This is one of the most important things to look for in a cancer specialist. You need to feel like your doctor is listening to you and answering your questions. Also, make sure your doctor will be available to you when you need to talk to him or her -- even after you leave the office.

How Do You Find a Cancer Specialist?

Usually, your primary care doctor will refer you to a cancer specialist. Many people rely on recommendations from friends and relatives. Your insurance company may also have a specific list of providers that they will work with.

There are other ways to get the names of cancer specialists. You could call your local hospital and ask for the names of cancer specialists who are on staff. You could get the names of cancer specialists through different medical organizations, like the American Medical Association, the American Society of Clinical Oncology, American College of Surgeons, or your local medical society. And you could contact top medical schools or cancer treatment centers in your state for references.

You can also use the WebMD Physician Directory to find cancer specialists near you.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on September 03, 2014
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