Person fanning out cards, each one with a different doctor's profile

What Should I Look for in an Oncologist?

When I was diagnosed with lung cancer in late 2013, my oncologist was recommended to me by another lung cancer patient and advocate. At our first meeting, I really liked the way she discussed options with me and our relationship has evolved over the years as I learned more about lung cancer and advocacy.

What makes a good doctor?

From this experience, I’d like to share the following pointers to help you find the oncologist who is right for you:

1) Look for an oncologist who is comfortable answering questions and explaining things that you don’t understand

Yes, you have a short time for your visit, but your oncologist shouldn’t make you feel that he/she is too rushed to address your concerns. A good oncologist wants you to ask questions and understand your diagnosis and treatment. You should never leave an appointment feeling that your questions and concerns were ignored.

2) Find an oncologist who treats you as a person, not just another patient with lung cancer

You will have frequent visits with your oncologist and you deserve someone who will make an effort to get to know you as a person. This is more than just someone who is nice and has a good “bedside manner.” Your oncologist should make an effort to get to know about your life -- Do you work? Do you have kids? What activities and hobbies are important to you? This is important because when recommending treatments, your oncologist needs to understand and appreciate what you consider important for maintaining your quality of life.

3) Search for an oncologist whom you feel that you can trust

If possible, you should look for a thoracic oncologist because this type of oncologist specializes in lung cancer and is usually familiar with the latest in treatments and clinical trials. General medical oncologists cover a wide variety of cancer diseases and see fewer lung cancer patients, so it is often more difficult for them to keep up on rapidly changing developments in all cancers. If there isn’t a thoracic oncologist in your area, you might want to consider discussing with your oncologist the option of consulting with one, either by traveling to visit a thoracic oncologist for a second opinion or getting a remote consultation (via phone or email) from one. A good oncologist should not feel threatened by this as he/she should want you to get the best possible treatment.

4) Find an oncologist who treats you as a partner in decision-making

Your oncologist should present options for treatment and even recommend what he/she believes might be most promising. However, they should not tell you what to do or pressure you into making a decision. You should feel comfortable doing your own research if you wish, and talking to other lung cancer patients and then bringing ideas and suggestions to your oncologist for discussion.

Always advocate for yourself

If you don’t feel that your oncologist measures up to your needs, don’t hesitate to look for another that does! Please don’t worry about offending your current doctor -- this is critically important and your life is at stake.

For recommendations of thoracic oncologists in your area, you can contact any of the lung cancer advocacy groups such as LUNGevity or GO2 Foundation.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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