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Cancer Awareness & Prevention

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Choosing an oncologist

Cancer continues to affect people from all walks of life. The National Cancer Institute says approximately 39.6 percent of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point during their lifetimes. However, the good news is that many people with cancer are seeing their diseases go into remission as survival rates continue to improve. This is thanks to many factors, including advancements in cancer treatments and therapies and the growing number of oncologists who specialize in targeted treatments.

Oncologists are specialists who treat cancer, specifically with regard to managing a person's care and treatment after he or she has been diagnosed. The field of oncology has three major areas, says The Journal of Clinical Oncology. These include medical, surgical and radiation. A medical oncologist treats cancer using chemotherapy or other targeted medications. A surgical oncologist specializes in tumor removal and will typically perform biopsies and other surgical procedures as they pertain to cancer treatment. A radiation oncologist works with radiation therapy to treat cancer.

In addition to specializing in one field of oncology, oncologists also may have specific skills as they pertain to one type of cancer. For example, a gynecologic oncologist will be knowledgeable in gynecologic cancers, such as cancers of the uterus and cervix.

Upon receiving a cancer diagnosis, patients are typically treated by a team of oncologists. That's because cancer treatment is diverse and will often require a combination of therapeutic efforts. Patients can have a say in which oncologists they use and are advised to seek out different opinions to find treatment plans they are comfortable with. The following is some advice on how to guide those research efforts.

• Seek a recommendation from your general practitioner. The doctor who diagnosed the cancer will likely be able to refer you to an oncologist. He or she may know which oncologists have a particularly good track record and can guide you in a certain direction.

• Use searchable databases. Various cancer organizations have searchable databases through which you can learn about the various affiliated oncologists.

• Consult with your insurance company. Cancer treatments can be expensive, and treatments may span several months and entail various therapies. Doctors and treatment centers that participate in your health insurance plan will be considerably less expensive than those operating outside of your coverage.

• Look for a doctor who specializes in your type of cancer. Working with a doctor who specializes in your cancer may provide you with the peace of mind needed to fight the disease, and someone with a track record of fighting your particular disease may be more skilled at treating the cancer than someone whose experience lies elsewhere.

• Look into oncologists who work at teaching hospitals. Oncologists working at teaching hospitals may have access to clinical trials or be required to continually update their credentials. Oncologists who also teach may be current on the latest therapies and be more capable of explaining your disease and treatment than doctors who do not teach.

• Look for a convenient treatment location. Finding an oncologist who practices at a facility close to home can be an added bonus and one that shaves some of the stress off of the impending treatment. Short trips to and from treatment may help you maintain your energy levels.

Cancer patients who find a capable oncologist they are comfortable with may find it easier to beat their disease and clear the hurdles they encounter during treatment.