The Cancer Checklist
When deciding where to receive your cancer treatment, make sure you take the time to pick the best cancer care team for you. Mark the items off this checklist. It is worth it—your first treatment decision is the most important. Rushing into treatment will rarely change your outcome for the better. It matters that you educate yourself before starting treatment.
Read the fine print.
Read the fine print in the online bios and reviews of your cancer doctors. You want a cancer doctor who specializes in your kind of cancer. Look for words such as surgical oncologist, radiation oncologist and medical oncologist. You also want a doctor who subspecializes in your cancer type. Learn whether the doctors are board certified in oncology. Do your homework, and read other patients’ reviews about the physicians you consider.
Make sure you ask how many times the doctor has done the type of procedure you are having. You want a physician who has performed a high number of successful procedures. Ask about the doctors’ experiences, complication rates and readmission rates. You have a right to know. Doctors should want to share their report card. If you are uncomfortable asking these questions, bring a friend or family member who can ask for you and document the answers. The right doctor will not be offended by your need to know.
Ask for a second opinion.
Ask for a second opinion on your pathology from a reputable cancer pathology expert. If not at Roswell Park, you can ask to have your pathology read at any National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center in the nation. If your doctor won’t do it, you can call the center and ask for a second opinion on your cancer slides. This is very important. At Roswell Park, our patients have a change in diagnosis between 6% and 14% of the time. An accurate and detailed diagnosis is essential to determining the very best treatment plan for you and your first treatment is the most important to your best long-term outcome.
Insist on true comprehensive cancer care.
The words “comprehensive cancer care” have become a marketing slogan. What does it really mean? For places like Roswell Park, designated by the federal government as a Comprehensive Cancer Center, it means we conduct cancer research and develop new therapies that are impacting cancer survival rates. We offer the latest therapies, for your particular type of cancer, before they become available elsewhere. It means we help those at high risk to minimize their cancer risk through screening and other preventative tools. Comprehensive cancer care takes care of the whole person—mind, body and spirit—throughout treatment and survivorship, because cancer impacts your entire self and your family.
Ask about their nursing expertise.
When your cancer treatment requires a hospital stay for any length of time, you want a nursing team that specializes in oncology. These nurses understand the needs of cancer patients, and work closely with the entire care team to optimize your care. With specialized training and experience, oncology nurses ensure you receive the highest quality and compassionate care and are committed to addressing your needs and comfort. Also, make sure your hospital stay is on a floor designated for your cancer type.
Make sure your doctor knows of and can provide all treatment options.
Many options may be available for your cancer type and choosing which ones you need, and in which sequence matters. Perhaps surgery will not give you the best chance of survival, or you should have chemotherapy first, before surgery. You deserve to know all of your treatment options and to have access to each one. Does the cancer doctor have access to the latest treatments? Is the latest technology being used? Is there collaboration with a team across medical disciplines to discuss your cancer treatment plan? Ask your doctor the approach taken to stay up to date on new therapies in cancer. Is your doctor involved in clinical trials? Make sure you research all of your options. Your first treatment is your very best chance for a cure. You need to know it’s the right one.
Does the doctor follow national guidelines for cancer care? Which ones?
For example, Roswell Park’s doctors and their national colleagues are the authors of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network clinical guidelines used around the world. All our doctors at all our locations, our main campus, satellites and community cancer practices, follow NCCN guidelines and Roswell Park’s clinical pathways to ensure we provide consistent Roswell Park quality care to all our patients
Does the team have all the specialists you need?
Ask the doctor if there is a team dedicated to just cancer patients and understands your specific cancer management needs. Does the team have all the specialists you need—pathology, diagnostic radiology, medical oncology, surgical oncology, radiation oncology, pharmacy, nursing, pain management, symptom management and supportive care—working together for you on a daily basis? Can an on-site dietitian help you stay well-nourished during your treatment? Are the physical therapists experienced with pre- and post-surgical rehabilitation for the issues of your particular cancer type? Make sure you are surrounded by a full team that understands your cancer.