← Previous  Next →
39. Are You an Oncologist?

Think about what type of doctor you are talking to. Often its your primary care physician who delivers the news "you have cancer." But to learn more about the diagnosis -- and the data supporting it -- the patient needs to see an oncologist. Once you do, here are some useful questions:

  • Questions...
  • A) What kind of oncologist are you?
  • B) What have you done to become a specialist in treating my kind of cancer?
  • C) Does your hospital specialize in cancer care?
  • Practical Tips...
  • Doctors who concentrate on cancer fall into three broad categories (i) "Research," meaning they work in labs and never see patients, (ii) "Clinical," meaning they see patients in their office and in the hospital, although they also may participate in some research, and (iii) "Surgical," meaning they concentrate on surgery solutions to cancer, such as removal of malignant tumors. Chances are you will be seeing a clinical oncologist initially, and you will build your health care team around them.
  • There should be a connection between the type of cancer you have and the oncologist’s field of specialization. For example, if your diagnosis is breast cancer, then that should be the oncologist’s specialty. But exactly how specialized are they? How long have they worked in that field and how many patients have they treated? Do they work with a U of colleagues? Have they ever conducted a clinical trial or authored scholarly articles?
  • Most practicing oncologists have "admitting privileges," meaning they are authorized to admit their patients to some nearby hospital for treatment. But most hospitals have an Oncology Department of no more than 10 to 20 oncologists, and never participate in clinical trials. At the other end of the spectrum are large metropolitan hospitals that also include an adjacent medical school. Some of these hospitals – there are just over 20 in the United States – are part of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network or "NCCN." Those arguably are the "best of the best." For instance, an NCCN hospital could be participating in over 50 clinical trials about just one type of cancer.