Were you recently diagnosed with cancer? Are you the caretaker for someone who was diagnosed?
Whether you were personally diagnosed with cancer or you are the caretaker for a loved one, walking down the road to better health can be a complicated and confusing process. Getting under the care of an empathetic and trustworthy physician who is an expert in your particular type of cancer can relieve some of this burden and bring you comfort and solace during an understandably difficult time.
Our goal here at MediFind is to help you find the very best care as quickly as possible. Aside from our extensive doctor-finder database, we also publish detailed resources like this guide to help you make the best healthcare decisions for yourself and your family.
We know that fighting cancer is frustrating and scary, and you may not know where to turn. And a top concern of cancer patients is how to find a reputable oncologist they can trust with their treatment and care.
To prepare you for the road ahead, we created this guide to walk you through the process of finding the right oncologist and preparing for your first appointment. We also included some helpful information on who oncologists are, along with their roles and specialties.
What is an Oncologist and What Types of Cancer Do They Treat?
Oncologists specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Your primary care physician may run tests and refer you to an oncologist if they suspect you have cancer. We will discuss this subject in more detail in the next section on what to expect during your doctor visits.
There are several types of oncologists: surgical, medical, radiation. The medical oncologist acts as your primary physician during cancer treatment, devises treatment plans, and monitors side effects. Your medical oncologist will likely work with you throughout your course of treatment.
According to the National Cancer Institute, a medical oncologist is “a doctor who has special training in diagnosing and treating cancer in adults using chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, biological therapy, and targeted therapy. A medical oncologist often is the main health care provider for someone who has cancer. A medical oncologist also gives supportive care and may coordinate treatment given by other specialists.”
A surgical oncologist performs cancer-related surgeries (biopsies, tumor removal) to remove cancer or diagnose the cancer type and stage.
A radiation oncologist administers radiation in the treatment of cancer.
You may see one or all three types of oncologists, depending on your diagnosis and treatment plan.
In addition to oncologists who specialize in treatment types, oncologists can also specialize in a particular body system or part (gastrointestinal, hematology) or treat patients at varying life stages (geriatric, pediatric). Some examples of oncology specialties are:
- Gastrointestinal oncology (specializes in the care of cancers of the gastrointestinal system)
- Hematology-oncology (specializes in the care of cancers of the blood)
- Pediatric oncology (specializes in the care of children with cancer)
- Geriatric oncology (specializes in the care of seniors with cancer)
- Gynecologic oncology (specializes in the care of cancers of the female reproductive system)
- Neuro-oncology (specializes in the care of cancers of the nervous system)
Some oncologists also treat cancers of specific organs such as skin, breast, blood, liver, bone, lung, or prostate.
Your oncologist might also work with a team of health providers who provide more comprehensive care and different treatment types (radiation, chemotherapy, surgery). In addition to different types of oncologists, you may also see pathologists, radiologists, nurses, dietitians, social workers, and other medical providers who can help alleviate uncomfortable side effects.
What Does an Oncologist Do?
Your oncologist will likely review previous test results and/or order additional tests to confirm your diagnosis or devise a treatment plan. Once your oncologist has confirmed your cancer diagnosis, they will tell you what to expect and discuss your prognosis and treatment options. Your oncologist will likely prefer one treatment plan over another, but do not be afraid to weigh all treatment options and discuss them in detail. If, at any time, you feel uncomfortable or you would like a different perspective, it’s OK to get a second opinion on your cancer diagnosis before you go ahead with treatment.
Once you agree on a treatment plan, your oncologist will continue supporting you during treatment, offering compassionate care and management of side effects, whether emotional or physical.
Reasons to See an Oncologist
You may be wondering whether or not you should see an oncologist. This is a discussion for your primary care physician or your referring doctor. To help you with this decision though, let’s walk through some of the reasons why you would see an oncologist and what you can expect from your interactions.
Confirming or ruling out a diagnosis
In most cases, your primary care physician will refer you to an oncologist if they feel they cannot provide comprehensive treatment or want a specialist’s opinion on a potential diagnosis. When you see the oncologist, you can either rule out a diagnosis or narrow down what is causing your symptoms.
If you have a tumor or growth, you may be referred to an oncologist to get a biopsy and/or additional testing. While primary care physicians (PCPs) can conduct routine tests, they may not be equipped to diagnose cancerous growths. If you are symptomatic but your PCP is unsure of the cause, additional testing with an oncologist can also rule out cancer as a potential diagnosis. Likewise, if you get a positive test result, you will be in the care of a specialist who can help you with treatment.
Oncology second opinions
Just because you see one oncologist does not mean you cannot see a second (or third) physician to confirm your diagnosis, explore additional treatment options, or get a different perspective. The more information you can glean from medical experts, the more equipped you will be to make the best health decisions.
Unfortunately, medical errors occur, even with cancer diagnoses. The Mayo Clinic reported that up to 88% of patients visiting the clinic for second opinions receive a new or refined diagnosis. This means that only 12% get a confirmation on the original diagnosis.
Also, since cancer treatment is a long-term endeavor, getting a second opinion can put you more at ease and help you get better prepared for the road ahead.
Visit MediFind’s Second Opinion Finder to find the best doctors in your geographic area who can give you a quality second opinion.
Related reading: Getting a Second Opinion on Cancer: Everything You Need to Know
Undergo cancer treatment
Once you see an oncologist, you can discuss treatment options and move forward with care. Your treatment will depend on your cancer type, stage, and other health factors you will discuss with your doctor. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cancer treatment generally includes one or more of the following protocols:
- Chemotherapy to kill or shrink cancer cells
- Surgery to remove malignant tumors and growths (tissue with cancer cells)
- Radiation to slow a tumor’s growth or kill cancer cells
- Hormone therapy to limit cancer cell growth by blocking the hormones that cause them to grow
- Immunotherapy to fight cancer cells or control side effects. Immunotherapy works with your body’s immune system.
- Stem cell or bone marrow transplant to treat blood cancers or cancers in lymph nodes. Bone marrow cells may also need to be replaced due to loss from chemotherapy or radiation.
Preparing for Your Oncology Appointment
Whether this is your first oncologist appointment or you are getting a second opinion, preparing before your appointment can help you make the most of your time with the doctor.
Before we begin, a couple of tips:
If you are forgetful or you think you will be too distracted to remember important details, bring along a friend or family member who can take notes and ensure you get answers to your questions.
Also, bring all of your medical records, along with a list of supplements and medications, and recent test results.
Your visit may also consist of:
- Physical exam
- Discussions about your diagnosis
- Discussions about your prognosis (the likely outcome or course of a disease)
- Additional testing
- Discussions about treatment options and potential side effects
Prepare questions beforehand
Going to the doctor can feel stressful, so even if you feel prepared when you walk in, it may be more difficult to recall your questions once you are there. Prepare your questions before you go to the doctor by writing them down in a notebook or on your phone.
Below is a list of questions to ask your doctor, revised and adapted from the National Cancer Institute.
- What type of cancer do I have?
- What is the stage? How far along am I?
- Is it local, or has it spread to other areas of my body?
- How serious is my diagnosis?
- What are the treatments offered for my cancer?
- What are the benefits and risks of each treatment?
- What treatments do you recommend?
- What is the chance of recovery with this treatment?
- Do I need to be hospitalized for the treatment?
- What are the side effects of treatment?
- Can I prevent or treat side effects?
- How will I know if the treatment is working?
- Are there any clinical trial opportunities for my type of cancer?
- Can you refer me to a doctor where I can get a second opinion?
- Will any of my medications or supplements affect the treatment?
- Can I still work while I am undergoing treatment?
How to Find a Good Oncologist
Your relationship with your oncologist will likely be long-term, so it’s vital that you feel comfortable with this physician’s expertise and medical perspective. It’s important to find the right person for you. And with over 150 types of cancers, most rare and challenging to treat, it’s difficult for one doctor to be an expert in every cancer type. It’s important to work with an oncologist who has extensive experience treating your specific type of cancer. We will talk about how to find these world-class doctors later on in this section.
The following medical associations and organizations provide databases of board-certified physicians.
- American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) “Find an Oncologist” Database
- The American Medical Association
- The American Board of Medical Specialties
Though these databases list the physician’s specialties and board certifications, they do not offer information on their depth of expertise in specific conditions or types of cancer, their ongoing and past research, their clinical trials, or their connectedness to other doctors in their field.
Ask your primary care doctor for oncologist recommendations. Or consult the oncologist directory affiliated with the hospital you trust.
We recommend exercising caution when asking family and friends for recommendations. The reason is that you may have a particular type of cancer that would best be treated by a physician with specialized expertise in that specific field. Your friends and family, though well-meaning, may not know how to evaluate a physician’s expertise.
We also do not recommend consulting online review sites to find and evaluate an oncologist. They do not offer information on the doctor’s level of expertise in specific conditions or cancer types. Reviews might be helpful if you want to evaluate staff-friendliness or wait times, but they do not paint the full picture of a doctor’s experience.
Quick and Easy Access to the Best Oncologists
We created MediFind to enable health consumers to get rapid access to the best medical experts and treatment options.
MediFind is an advanced platform that uses cutting-edge machine learning techniques in combination with a team of medical experts to supply consumers with a database of more than 2.5 million physicians with expertise in a specific health condition. Unlike other doctor-finder platforms, MediFind does not rely on user reviews to evaluate doctors. Instead, it extracts objective medical data to evaluate physicians based on the four criteria below:
- Experience treating patients with the condition
- Research and papers published discussing the condition
- Connectedness with other physicians who treat the condition
- Referrals from specialists who treat patients with the condition
Evaluating a doctor’s expertise via this gold standard of criteria provides you with current data on which doctors have the expertise and experience you need for your specific cancer type.
Searching for an Oncologist: Where to Start
To start your search for an oncologist, visit our Best Oncologists Near Me page and enter your location and radius. You can also click on a cancer type to customize your search to the most common cancer types. If your cancer type is not listed here, simply click on the search icon in the upper right corner of the page and type in your condition to find oncologists who specialize in your cancer type.
When narrowing down your search by cancer type, you will see a page that looks like the below. You will find oncologists who specialize in your cancer type organized by expert tiers, along with links to clinical trials and the latest studies and advances for this condition.
Click on a doctor profile to dig deeper into the physician’s expertise, participation in clinical studies, published papers, and more.
MediFind has a proprietary system for evaluating doctors. Learn more about how MediFind works here.
MediFind’s artificial intelligence and language processing algorithm sifts through hordes of medical data, so you don’t have to. It would require hundreds of hours of research and experienced data analysts to dig into this complex data and organize it into easily digestible content. MediFind helps you find the very best care, and saves you time when you need it the most.
MediFind Does the Heavy Lifting For You
We understand how difficult your cancer journey can feel and the challenges you may need to overcome along the way. Our goal here at MediFind is to remove some of the burden to help you find the best care as quickly as possible.