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How to Choose a Cancer Center

If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, your head may be spinning with questions such as: How can I find out which cancer treatment center is best for my type of cancer? How can I locate the very best oncologist (cancer specialist) for my cancer diagnosis? What kinds of questions should I ask them? How should I go about choosing the best course of treatment when there are all sorts of options available? Let’s look at these questions, each in turn:

How to Choose a Cancer Treatment Center That Is Best for My Diagnosis

This question may seem a bit overwhelming at first, but it’s not really all that bad. It just takes a little bit of time and research effort, so start by relaxing and not worrying. Cancer care has improved so much that it’s nearly assured that you can find the best care available for your cancer diagnosis.

Start by asking around! Talk with friends, family, close co-workers, and especially your family doctor. Ask them if they can recommend any hospital or cancer treatment center highly, especially if they have some familiarity with your specific diagnosis. Your family doctor will probably know the most, but you never know.

Some important considerations to include in your search: First a very practical consideration: Is the hospital or cancer treatment center in-network for your health insurance? After all, unless you have unlimited resources, you don’t want to be left with a very large bill after treatment is completed. Then, locate a hospital or cancer treatment center, that has extensive (high volume) experience in successfully treating your specific cancer diagnosis. Generally, this will tend to be large hospitals (although not always) or a well-known cancer treatment center, like the Hunterdon Cancer Center at Hunterdon Hematology Oncology in Flemington, NJ!

Patients should make sure to ask whether the treatment center has access to the newest most precise medical options to treat their cancer. Further, its approach to treating your cancer should be multi-disciplinary, meaning that multiple kinds of cancer treatment specialists should work together as a unified team, focused jointly on treating your cancer with an approach that “passes muster” with all members of the treatment team. Here at the Hunterdon Cancer Center at Hunterdon Hematology Oncology in Flemington, NJ we focus on working as a team to offer you an optimal treatment experience.

One important-but-sometimes-overlooked factor to keep in mind is geography – i.e., distance. Some cancer treatments can potentially require a lot of visits to the treatment center. Some treatments require patients to come back to the infusion suite 2-3 times per week. Considering distance often turns out to be a big deal.

Finally, look for a hospital or center that is a National Cancer Institute (NCI) designated cancer treatment center, or one that is accredited by the healthcare-focused non-profit Joint Commission. Understanding the importance of these designations, Hunterdon Hematology Oncology is an affiliate of Fox Chase Cancer Center and also, as part of Hunterdon Regional Cancer Center’s Breast Program, has received full accreditation from the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers (NAPBC).

How to Choose the Right Oncologist for My Cancer Diagnosis

Start with your family physician, who almost undoubtedly can refer you to one or more oncologists and/or surgeons who have extensive experience with your specific cancer diagnosis. Then, meet with at least two recommended oncologists/surgeons. Compare and contrast their recommendations. Find out whether they agree or not. If not, see another one (or two). Finally, meet once more with your family physician, who can help you sort through the options and select the right treatment and the right physician(s) for you.

What Questions to Ask Your Oncologist and/or Surgeon

In selecting your oncologist and/or surgeon, it is important to establish that he or she is board certified in your specialty area, how many patients they have treated with your kind of cancer, how many patients with this kind of cancer are seen at the center, and how many have you personally treated, and is there a multidisciplinary team that will work jointly to make decisions regarding the best kind of treatment for my cancer? Also, don’t forget to ask your oncologist if he/she can come to see you in the hospital if the diagnosis or symptoms/side effects of treatment result in an admission. The Hunterdon Cancer Center at Hunterdon Hematology Oncology works to make our patients feel comfortable and confident that they have made the right choice.

For surgeons, ask them: how many surgeries do you perform each year? (It’s important for a surgeon to have a minimum of 15 to 20 per year.) What are your complication rates? What is your 30-day operative mortality rate? (This is any death that occurred within 30 days after surgery, either in or out of the hospital.)

What Factors to Consider When Deciding on Your Cancer Treatment

A diagnosis of cancer can be very anxiety-inducing, but unless your cancer is very advanced, rushing immediately into the first kind of treatment that seems “right” can be a mistake. It is nearly always recommended to take a deep breath, let it out slowly, relax a tiny bit, and do some research.

The first consideration to weigh is the aim(s) of the treatment. These can include removing the cancer entirely or killing it entirely, stopping or slowing its rate of growth and spread, and/or palliative care (supportive care), i.e. managing symptoms and side effects. You need to have an in-depth discussion of these options with your physician and/or multidisciplinary team.

The next factor to consider is the type and stage of the cancer. From there the most important decision is deciding what treatment type best fits with your particular cancer situation. These options include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapy, active surveillance, also called watchful waiting, palliative care, and participating in a clinical trial.

Another key consideration to weigh the risks and benefits of each type of treatment. Some factors to consider include the chances for a complete cure, the likelihood that the cancer may come back, short and long-term side effects, chances of living longer with and without treatment, and (importantly) the effect(s) of treatment on your quality of life and independence.

The Hunterdon Cancer Center team is here to guide you, offer our utmost support and provide detailed information to make these difficult decisions easier on you and your family. Contact us today to schedule your appointment.

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