Facing a diagnosis of cancer is overwhelming and frightening. Whether it is you or a loved one, you’re immediately confronted with having to make a lot of decisions, including the choice of where and who to entrust with your care.
A medical oncologist is physician who specializes in diagnosing and treating cancer patients with chemotherapy, immunotherapy and targeted therapy. Medical oncologists are often the main healthcare provider for a cancer patient.
Choosing a medical oncologist can be daunting. Where do you begin? How do you narrow down the list of recommendations you receive from your primary care physician, friends and family? How quickly do you need to make a decision?
Below are a few helpful tips and questions you can ask when considering your next steps:
Choosing your medical oncologist
If you are diagnosed with cancer, you may feel rushed to choose your medical oncologist immediately. Talk to your doctor about the process of staging and what your diagnosis means to understand the timing needed to make the most informed decision that is right for you.
What to look for in your medical oncologist’s credentials?
Most medical oncologists go through 9-11 years of medical school training, internship and residency.
You will often see that medical oncologists are board certified in areas such as hematology (specializing in blood cancer.) To receive these credentials, these specialists must be certified by governing boards after they have completed rigorous requirements and tests that demonstrate exceptional expertise in the field of cancer. Additionally, these physicians must continue their education and keep up with advances and changes in their specialty area to maintain ongoing board certification.
Most medical oncologists will list their certifications through their websites and offices, but you may also find out if a doctor is board certified in a specialty through board certification organizations such as the American Board of Medical Specialties at www.abms.org or the American Board of Physician Specialties at www.abpsus.org.
Questions to ask your medical oncologist
When making a decision about your care, it is helpful to learn about the physician’s current practice, and talk to family or friends who may have been treated by the doctor in their cancer journey.
Questions to ask when considering an oncologist for your cancer journey:
- How long has the doctor been in practice?
- How many people with cancer he or she has treated?
- How many cancer patients is the doctor currently treating?
- How much experience does this doctor have with your type of cancer?
- Are they involved in clinical trials in the field of cancer research?
- Do they participate in tumor conferences with other oncologists in their field? If so, how often are they participating?
- Does the doctor work with a nurse navigator?
It is important to keep in mind that throughout the cancer journey, you may see more than one cancer specialist, depending on your type of cancer. Asking about other members of the care team and how the oncologist partners and communicates with other specialists is also helpful to know.