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Specialists Who Treat Colorectal Cancer

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How do I actually build a team for treating colorectal cancer?

  • Look for experts. Depending on where you live, finding a specialist in colorectal cancer may not be easy. But it's always a good idea to try. "While a generalist can be very good, he or she may just not be as up to date on the latest treatments of colorectal cancer," says Leonard Saltz, MD, leader of the colorectal disease management team at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. "It's not that specialists are smarter -- it's just that we're more focused."
  • Ask the hospital about the doctor's credentials. Find out where the doctor studied, what fellowships were completed, and which areas he or she has board certification. 
  • Find doctors you like and trust. For successful treatment, you really need to have a doctor that you feel comfortable working with. "Finding a doctor whom you trust is really important," says Anthony Back, MD, an oncologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. "That way, you don't feel like you have to be the doctor yourself."
  • Make sure your doctors listen to you. "If I were a patient," says Paulo M. Hoff, MD, an oncologist at the MD Andersen Cancer Center at the University of Texas in Houston, "I would look for physicians who not only gave me information but also listen to my concerns. I would want a doctor who will take the time to explain why he is recommending one treatment over another."
  • Ask about your doctor's experience. Find out how much experience your doctor has with colorectal cancer. If you need surgery, get detailed information from the surgeon. Find out how many times the surgeon has done the procedure you need. Ask how often the surgeon does these procedures, since you want a surgeon who does them regularly. Ask what the surgeon's success rate is. Although these questions may seem awkward, your surgeon should expect them.
  • Find team members who can work well together. Most cancer treatments complement each other. For instance, you might have chemotherapy and radiation before surgery, and more chemotherapy afterward. This is especially true for rectal cancer. So the experts on your team -- your oncologist, your radiologist, and your surgeon -- all need to work together to determine the best strategy. "It's very important that all three stay in close communication," Hoff tells WebMD. As you're assembling your team, make sure that all of your doctors know each other, can work well together, and agree on the treatment plan for your colorectal cancer.

Should I consider participating in a clinical trial?

Before new colorectal cancer treatments become approved, they are tested in clinical trials. If you're interested in a cutting-edge treatment for colorectal cancer that isn't yet available, see if you are eligible for a clinical trial.

"Clinical trials are the ways that new treatments are discovered," says Hoff. "There are a lot of clinical trials for colorectal cancer, and they need a lot of patients to make them work."

Ask your doctor if you might be eligible. Or you could consult the National Cancer Institute's web site, which contains information about current clinical trials.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David T. Derrer, MD on September 03, 2014
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