Q. How do I find doctors who specialize in treating my cancer type?

A. Finding a doctor who specializes in your cancer type can significantly improve the recovery process and cancer survivorship. It’s important to find a doctor who understands the intricacies and dynamics of living with your diagnosis. You want to find a doctor who regularly treats your diagnosis and can address the needs of people living with this type of cancer. A dermatologist, for instance, would be more informed about melanoma. Although a doctor’s personality should not impact treatment, it can be extremely helpful if we feel comfortable speaking with our doctor.

To find a doctor who specializes in treating your diagnosis, you may first want to consult with your primary care physician and request a referral. Your family members, friends or colleagues may know of a doctor who specializes in this type of cancer. A representative from your health insurance company may also assist you in seeking a specialized doctor. Speaking with your insurance representative would also help you understand your coverage and learn whether or not you would be allowed to go out of network to see a specialist. Understanding your doctor’s credentials and training can be helpful in making educated decisions regarding your diagnosis and treatment. Pay attention to a doctor’s credentials and don’t be afraid to ask about his/her education and training. Some doctors including dermatologists may choose additional training in their specialty.

When searching for a doctor, some questions to ask yourself include:

  • Does this doctor have the appropriate education and training to address my type of cancer?
  • Will this doctor listen to my needs and treat me with respect?
  • Does this doctor clearly explain treatment options to me that I understand and encourage me to ask questions about my diagnosis and treatment?
  • Do I feel as if I am an important part of the medical team?

Finding the right treatment facility for you is equally as important to finding the right doctor. Locating a comprehensive cancer center, for instance, may provide access to a number of doctors to whom you could reach out and learn about treatment options and alternatives for you to consider.

In discussing your diagnosis, questions to ask include:

  • How large is the tumor and has it metastasized?
  • Will surgery alone be able to remove the cancer or will I need additional treatment?
  • What are the treatments available for my type of cancer?
  • Are there any potential side effects related to my treatment?
  • Am I at risk for a recurrence of this type of cancer or other type?
  • How frequently will I have to follow up with you?

Answered by Glenn Meuche, MSW, LCSW

Q. I’ve just been diagnosed with cancer. How can I get information to help me make treatment decisions?

A. There is a great deal of information about cancer and cancer treatments, especially online. The challenges are how to find and evaluate information to make sure it is reliable, up-to-date, trustworthy and appropriate to your diagnosis and situation. For cancer information, The National Cancer Institute to speak with an information specialist at 1-800-4-CANCER.

To help you evaluate online information, keep these questions in mind:

  • What is the purpose of the website? Is it educational or commercial—that is, is the site trying to sell you a product or service?
  • What is the source of the information?
  • Is the information evidence-based—that is, based on scientific research?
  • Does the website provide contact information for individuals who are responsible for its content?
  • Are the links relevant and appropriate for the site?

Once you have information, the next challenge is how to make sense of it. Ultimately, your doctor and health care team are best able to help you interpret information. Identify someone on the health care team you are comfortable talking to. Then:

  • Write down your questions before your doctor visit
  • Ask questions if you don’t understand what the doctor says
  • Take notes and if possible, bring someone with you who can assist you

Interpreting medical tests requires that you consult with your health care team. Make sure you ask for copies of lab tests, biopsy results, X-Rays, ultrasounds, CAT and PET scans, or MRIs. Schedule time with your doctor and health care team to review all test results, and their implications for your treatment and care.

Answered by Carolyn Messner, DSW, OSW-C, FAPOS, LCSW-R