What is Oncology?

Oncology involves the study and treatment of cancer, and having an oncologist you feel good about is vitally important to a successful recovery. Very few people who find themselves needing one ever imagined themselves evaluating oncologists, but choosing the right doctor to get you through cancer treatment successfully is one of the most important decisions you'll ever make.

The types of oncologists vary with the types of cancer. There are lung cancer specialists, breast specialists, skin specialists, blood cancer specialists, and too many others to list. The cancer world is very precise. What works for lung cancer doesn't always work for breast cancer. A specialist will speak the language of your diagnosis, which is especially important if your cancer is rare. For example, inflammatory breast cancer is unlike other breast cancers, and the treatment is unique. The prognosis for this cancer has improved substantially in recent years because someone decided to specialize in it, resulting in research that contributed to better outcomes.

Cancer treatment requires getting the right treatment for the specific cancer. Misdiagnosis means ineffective treatment or treatment delays. A precise, complete diagnosis is the essential first step. A good oncologist will know how to assess your particular symptoms and markers and provide the diagnosis that will determine the most effective treatment.

Cancer treatment and care

Your oncologist will suggest a treatment plan based on your diagnosis, your general health, your age and any other factors that could affect your treatment. Your primary care physician will stay informed, but the overall state of your health is in the hands of your cancer doctor during treatment. Your oncologist might recommend chemotherapy, surgery or radiation if indicated, can help you understand and manage side effects and will supervise all aspects of your care. Even if you're in remission, you'll also follow up with your oncologist after treatment for months, years or the rest of your life.

Your oncologist will also manage your medical team. Your cancer treatment can involve several specialists. One oncologist oversees the treatment protocol and delivery, and the radiation oncologist delivers and manages radiation treatments. Within a cancer treatment facility, nurses help administer chemotherapy and assistants or nurses help you with cope with side effects. While you are in treatment, someone is always available to attend to your needs and concerns.

Finding the right cancer doctor

The best oncologist for you really knows your disease. This is especially important if you have a cancer that is not well understood yet. 

Choose an oncologist that you have good reason to trust. Does your doctor come highly recommended? Do you know anyone who has been treated by this doctor? Does the doctor make you feel confident? Check out oncologists on Angie's List, where you can read through other members' experiences and verify their qualifications, education, continuing education, accepted insurance plans and affiliated hospitals 

Choose someone you can have a good working relationship with. Different patients have different approaches to this relationship. Some patients just want their doctors to make the decisions, and they will be good patients. It is especially important for these patients to know that their doctors are highly qualified.

Many patients will educate themselves and want to be included in all the decisions about their care. A doctor who will work in partnership, in an atmosphere of mutual respect, will be a good fit for this kind of patient.

Make sure that the doctor you choose stays up to date on current research. Cancer treatments are continually evolving, and if a doctor is not paying attention to what's happening in oncology research, you might not receive the most effective treatment.

Another thing to look for is how well the oncology practice manages insurance carriers. There are ways to ensure good coverage and prompt reimbursement, and a good facility will know how to do this, resulting in less stress for you.

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