Lung cancer is scary and dangerous, and requires you to make lots of rapid decisions for which you feel ill-prepared. Here’s some advice that will help you move forward as you seek and find the very best medical care possible.
You’ve been diagnosed with lung cancer. Your doctor says you should start treatment ASAP. But the decisions you make now, up front, could very well impact whether or not you survive. It pays to investigate all of your options – both for a hospital or cancer center, and doctors (chiefly, surgeon and oncologist).
Your first decision is most likely choosing the facility where you’ll receive treatment. Once you decide on a treatment venue, you can review the doctors available.
If you’re in a highly populated area, there may be a number of hospitals and cancer centers from which you can choose. If you live out in the country, there may be just a single facility within reasonable distance. Either way, though, it’s smart to review your options.
Choose your hospital or cancer center
The best place to treat your lung cancer may not be at your local hospital. It’s tempting to stay local for treatment; you may feel most comfortable with your own long-time doctor, and you probably know and trust many of your hospital’s employees.
But you’re talking life and death here: your life. It’s worth exploring all the resources within a reasonable radius of your home. You might eventually decide to stick with your own local hospital or cancer center, but make sure it’s a reasoned decision based on data and facts, not emotion.
Explore your options
The federal government designates 50+ hospitals across the country as Comprehensive Cancer Centers. These “best in class” hospitals or cancer centers see thousands of cancer patients every year, as opposed to the hundreds (or fewer) seen at smaller local hospitals. And their patient outcomes are better: statistically speaking, patients treated at these centers are more likely to survive their cancer than patients treated elsewhere. Find the Comprehensive Cancer Center nearest you.
Taking it a step further, the Lung Cancer Alliance offers a great state-by-state tool for identifying hospitals and cancer centers that specialize in lung cancer treatment. Some are Comprehensive Cancer Centers, and some are specialized programs at other facilities. Check out their online lung cancer treatment program tool.
If being treated at a Comprehensive Cancer Center (or at a cancer center specializing in lung cancer) is too difficult, logistically speaking, consider at least going to one for a second opinion before getting treatment locally.
Make your choice
Once you’ve identified one or more possible treatment facilities, it’s time to assess which might be the perfect fit for you. The American Cancer Society’s handy worksheet, How to choose a hospital, helps you ask the right questions to get the necessary information for each option you’ve chosen.
The federal government offers a wealth of online tools, as well. When researching hospitals, their hospital compare tool is invaluable in assessing the quality of care given by specific hospitals, based on both patient feedback and results data. While the tool is located on the medicare.gov site, don’t be confused; you don’t have to be on Medicare to access any of the 4,000+ hospitals the site covers.
Find a doctor
The “right” doctor for you is one that combines the specific skill set that will help him or her treat your cancer, with a bedside manner with which you can easily connect.
Choose who’s right for you
Some brilliant doctors come across as cold and uncommunicative. Some wonderfully warm and friendly doctors aren’t as current with new research and best practices as they might be. And there are all kinds of doctors in between those two poles.
You know your own personality. Will you fare well with a superior clinician, a doctor who’s up on all the latest lung cancer news, but whose communication skills are problematic? Are you willing to accept the potential of somewhat lesser skills in a doctor with whom you connect immediately and easily?
It’s tempting to say, “I want the top doctor in the field, and I don’t care how he comes across.” But in reality, you’re going to have an intense and perhaps lengthy relationship with this doctor. For best results, you need a doctor with whom you can partner fully and comfortably as you make one important decision after another.
Another important consideration as you choose a doctor is what hospital s/he’s affiliated with. You need your doctor to have privileges at the facility where you’ll be treated. Also, is the doctor accepting new patients? Sometimes your doctor of choice simply isn’t available.
And finally, find out well in advance whether your insurance carrier considers your doctor in or out of their network. How the doctor is classified will have a huge impact on how much you’re billed.
Where do you start?
Start with the treatment facility you’ve selected. Most hospitals will have an online database of doctors practicing there, usually sorted by specialty. Search first for oncologists, and then see if there’s one specializing in lung cancer.
As for surgeons, look for a thoracic surgeon, rather than a cardiothoracic surgeon. A thoracic surgeon is more likely to have done more lung surgery (as opposed to heart surgery).
The American Society of Clinical Oncologists (ASCO) has a patient-centered website, cancer.net, that can help in your search. Access their Find a cancer doctor tool for a list of oncologists, which you can filter for both location and specialty.
Once you’ve narrowed down your list of doctors, the American Cancer Society website offers a number of useful tools for finding and choosing the members of your medical team. Their worksheet, How to choose a doctor, leads you through key questions to ask.
Breast cancer survivor and award-winning author PJ Hamel_, a long-time contributor to the HealthCentral community, counsels women with breast cancer through the volunteer program at her local hospital. She founded and manages a large and active online survivor support network. _