By Steven A. Limentani, MD, VP/Director of Cancer Services and Chief Research Officer, Mission Health
We are all afraid that we will one day hear the words, “you have cancer.” Unfortunately, almost 2 million people will be diagnosed with cancer in the United States every year. The good news is many of these people will be cured. But after receiving this diagnosis, what can you do to improve your odds of having a good outcome? It is critically important that you have a clear plan on how to proceed.
Whenever you see your doctor, be prepared to take notes. Bring another person with you so you have at least two sets of ears. You should assess your level of comfort with the physician you are seeing – not everyone is a perfect match and you need to be comfortable. You should also look at the physician’s level of expertise. The training that a physician has received does matter. Are they board certified? Did they train at good places? That information is readily available. A medical, radiation or surgical oncologist is by definition a cancer expert. Some practitioners are generalists taking care of all cancers, but some are more specialized. If available, it is ideal to see someone who has a lot of experience with the type of cancer you have.
The Internet can be your friend but like anything, you have to be careful about the source. As a physician, I always find it easier to speak to a patient who is more educated about their tumor. You as a patient will have better questions and a better understanding of the answers. But having said that, you cannot become truly expert in a short period of time; because of that, you must have trust in your doctor. If you don’t, then you should probably find someone else.
When you see your doctor, you should receive a comprehensive treatment plan. This should include all aspects of your treatment which may include surgery, radiation and chemotherapy as well as nutrition, emotional support and other elements depending on your diagnosis. If there are alternatives, your physician should spend time explaining why they are recommending a particular course.
The opportunity to be seen at an institution that does multi-disciplinary treatment planning is critical. Some institutions will have multi-disciplinary clinics where you are seen by all of the practitioners during one visit. Some people like this while others will find it to be information overload and too much at once. Most programs that have a multi-disciplinary approach will also have navigators that will help to guide you through the process. Navigators are the glue that will help to keep you moving in the right direction while also providing you with answers about your day-to-day care. Unfortunately, this is not done at all places, if you are not certain whether that is what you are getting, you should ask.
Steven A. Limentani, MD, is a Clinical Professor of Medicine, University of North Carolina, Vice President/Medical Director of Cancer Services and Chief Research Officer at Mission Health. For information on Mission Health’s Cancer Services, please call 828-213-2500 or visit http://www.mission-health.org/cancer-care.php.