How to choose an oncologist

Learn how to choose the best oncologist to fit your needs.

When people begin looking for an Oncologist (cancer specialist) they often rely on the referral of their family practice or primary care physicians. A number of people take the advice of family members and friends, while some people choose a hospital first because of its reputation for providing excellent cancer care and then choose an oncologist on staff. Other methods of finding an oncologist are through the local Medical Society or Hospital Information Hotline where a list of area oncologists & specialists is available. The local news channels provide media reports that highlight a medical “breakthrough” & physician. Local & national advertisements in newspapers, billboards, television, & magazines provide names of medical oncologists. Whichever method you feel most comfortable with there is information you should find out about the physician, as well as getting a second opinion. Speaking with several physicians is always a wise decision in order to insure the right diagnosis.

When choosing an Oncologist it is important to be aware of his/her credentials. Here are questions that you should find the answers to :
  • What college/medical school did he/she attend?
  • What residency/fellowship program did he/she attend?
  • Is the physician board certified or eligible in medical oncology?
  • What kind of hands-on experience with patient care does the physician have?
  • What are the qualifications and experience of his/her colleagues & associates?

An important factor in addition to credentials & qualifications is access to clinical trials. Clinical trials are treatments that are new & experimental. A clinical trial is also known as a protocol and is overseen by a participating physician’s office under the guidance of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), pharmaceutical companies, & the FDA. These programs are scientifically rigorous and provide access to new treatment methods.

Clinical Trial participation is important because cancer treatments are rapidly changing and many patients receive the best treatment by participating in a clinical trial.

Another question that you should ask is the physician board certified? A physician becomes board certified once he/she has been trained in a specific medical field and has taken certification exams in that field. To remain board certified a physician must take continuing education classes.


What is the physicians’ experience? This is very important as well as the numbers of procedures performed or patients treated for cancer. A physician that has their practice largely devoted to cancer treatment is more likely going to have more expertise than a general oncologist. Physicians that are focused on specific types of cancer will more likely be familiar with the best and most advanced treatments.


Another suggestion is to look for physicians who have written about cancer and had research published.

Other questions ask the physician you are considering:
  • Are you or your associates involved in research?
  • What are your office hours? Are you accessible after hours?
  • When you are out of town who will I see?
  • Who else will be participating in my care (other physicians)?
  • Can I bring a family member or friend to my appointments?
  • Do you accept my insurance?


After speaking with the physician there are questions that you should ask yourself.

For example: Does the physician listen to me and treat me as a person and not a disease? Does the physician clarify things and encourage me to ask questions?


These are a few examples of what to look for when trying to find an oncologist.

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