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How to Find a Cancer Doctor

It can be shocking and scary to hear, “You have cancer.” That said, there are things you can do to equip yourself with the best healthcare team for you. Knowing what to look for in a doctor, knowing what types of treatments are available, and knowing what questions to ask is critical for each and every cancer patient to obtain the very best support through their treatment.

Traditionally, oncologists have stuck to the orthodox treatments for cancer including surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation for managing a patient’s disease. While some oncologists continue this trend, others are exploring and utilizing a more integrative approach to cancer treatments.

Integrative oncologists recognize all aspects of healthcare that may be helpful to their patients including modern medicine along with a more holistic approach to care which can include immune support, nutrition, mental, and spiritual care, to name a few. It is a best of both worlds approach to developing a cancer treatment plan, as it balances treatment effectiveness with the overall health of the body. I feel we should not have to sacrifice one for the other.

Your Healthcare Team

an integrative approach to developing a treatment plan

Traits and attributes you should look for in a cancer doctor

1. They possess a thorough understanding of the body’s biochemistry and physiology.

  • It is important to have a background in various disciplines to understand how they are all connected in order to best help their patient.
  • MD Award: They must choose a specialty. Oncologists must do three years of residency in internal medicine.
  • Advanced Oncology/Specialization in cancer treatment.
  • Obtain necessary advanced fellowship training and experience in the treatment of cancer.

Other healthcare providers such as naturopaths, chiropractors, acupuncturists, nutritionists are also important to add to your healthcare team. While all of these healthcare practitioners provide valuable treatment modalities, I do not recommend that they are utilized as your primary care management team. These are integrative approaches and should be used with a proper primary approach to treatment.

2. They listen to you. In healthcare today, it is unfortunate that most physicians are diagnosis/treatment focused, not patient-focused. While it is critical for a physician to have excellent diagnostic and treatment-providing skills, the patient-focused physician goes a step beyond in a way that honors, respects and values each patient. For them, the patient’s needs are the most important thing when approaching their treatment.

Ways you can determine if your physician is patient-focused include observing if:

  • They ask, “How are you doing?” or “How are you feeling?”
  • Any concerns you address are heard. You are not interrupted.
  • They ask you about your treatment goals.
  • Their treatment recommendations are clearly communicated and thoroughly explained.
  • You are given an opportunity to share your thoughts.
  • They allow time to have all of your questions answered.
  • They provide respectful dialogue. The days of doctor-dominated conversation are over. They do not talk over or interrupt you.
  • They support you in receiving the treatment you prefer which best meets your needs and wants.

3. They obtain advanced lab testing. One of the best ways to monitor cancer treatment effectiveness is through lab testing. That said, remember that lab tests, while important, should not be our only way to evaluate cancer. Tumor marker testing – blood tests ordered when cancer is first diagnosed. Imaging also provides important information regarding treatment response.

Types of advanced lab tests include:

  • Cancer Profile/CA Profile (American Metabolic Labs in Florida): Looks at innovative lab markers to monitor cancer.
  • Caris Molecular Intelligence Test (I use routinely): Looks at the genetics of a tissue sample from a biopsy or surgery.

4. They show genuine compassion. You will need their compassion, devotion, and support during treatment.

Things you can look for include:

  • They show you their human side.
  • They show you they are truly invested in your best care.
  • They view and treat their patients like family.
  • They show empathy and have good personal skills.
  • They recognize and validate a patient’s feelings and emotions
  • They express to you that they are your advocate.

Questions to consider:

  • How much does your doctor know about you?
  • Do they know where you grew up? Where are you from?
  • Have they asked about your spouse, family, children, loved ones?
  • Do they know about your hobbies and interests?
  • Do they know about your religious beliefs?

5. They have the ability to create personalized treatment protocols. Traditional oncology can have a one-size fits all approach to treatment. I feel that approaching cancer treatments with a ‘type of cancer = this specific treatment’ without taking other factors into consideration is a mistake. This approach, in general, is not going to be nearly as successful as seeing each patient as an individual simply because each patient is different. There are many different factors that create the need for an individual approach to cancer treatments.

Some of these include:

  • Genetics
  • Toxic exposure
  • Nutrition
  • Unique anatomy
  • Preexisting medical conditions
  • Medications
  • Biochemistry and physiology
  • Stressors

6. Understands the importance of nutrition. Unfortunately, so many oncologists do not recognize the value of proper nutrition in relation to a solid cancer treatment plan. Your doctor should consider nutrition part of the critical foundation for a good cancer treatment protocol.

Using nutrition, you can:

  • Provide critical nutrients and antioxidants.
  • Eliminate food items that may inhibit proper healing.

7. Tends to your spiritual needs. There is evidence showing that patients who have a spiritual practice have better outcomes than those who do not. Spiritual practice should be seen by your physician as a meaningful part of your cancer treatment journey. They should encourage a spiritual practice that brings you hope and peace.

8. Recognizes the importance of a good support system. Cancer treatment requires lots of support from friends and family. It is not something that should be approached alone. It is ideal for all cancer patients to have at least one advocate, whether it be a partner, parent, sibling, adult child, relative, or friend.

An effective advocate will:

  • Accompany you to appointments
  • Spend time with you
  • Provide emotional support
  • Listen to your concerns, hopes, and fears
  • Celebrate your successes

9. Has a follow-up plan. Monitoring patients post-treatment is critical in a long-term cancer treatment plan. Therapies that have been effective may stop working over time.

Follow-up plans can include:

  • Tumor marker lab tests which reflect the activity of cancer cells.
  • Imaging such as PET scans, MRI, CT, x-rays, and/or ultrasounds. The risk vs. benefits of radiation exposure must be weighed against the need to view these images.
  • Follow-up testing through the Research Genetic Cancer Centre. This can be used both for obtaining a baseline level of circulating tumor cells and also to monitor changes in these cells in response to the integrative therapies being used.

Conclusion

Today’s cancer treatments can, and should, include an integrative approach to developing a treatment plan for patients. Integrative oncology can include many treatment options, from fundamental aspects like nutrition, stress, mental and spiritual health, to innovative treatments like fractionated chemotherapy (low-dose chemo), IPT (insulin potentiation therapy), and IVC (high-dose intravenous vitamin c).

As Sir William Osler stated — and this is one of my guiding principles: “The good physician treats the disease. The great physician treats the patient who has the disease.”