Choosing a Doctor for Your Cancer Care

Approved by the Lineagotica Editorial Board, 04/2018

Listen to the Lineagotica Podcast: Choosing an Oncologist, adapted from this content.

Watch the Lineagotica Video: Finding an Oncologist for Your Cancer Care, with Drs. Shelby Terstriep and Jyoti Patel, adapted from this content.

The doctor who diagnosed your cancer likely referred you to an oncologist. An oncologist is a doctor who specializes in treating cancer. The oncologist you choose will influence every aspect of your care. So it is important that you feel comfortable with this person’s expertise and approach. This doctor will work closely with you, your family, and support staff during treatment to provide you with the best care possible.

Where to find an oncologist

Oncologists practice in different settings. These include university hospitals, cancer centers, community hospitals, and local offices. To find an oncologist, talk with your primary care or family doctor, your health insurance company, or the local hospital. The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) provides a free, searchable database of ASCO member oncologists.

Other medical associations also offer searchable databases:

Start by collecting several names of prospective doctors. You may want a second or third opinion before you choose an oncologist and begin treatment. Learn more about seeking a second opinion.

Tips for finding an oncologist

Here are some tips to help you find an oncologist:

  • Look for a doctor who treats the specific type of cancer that you have. Depending on your treatment plan, you may need a medical, surgical, and/or radiation oncologist. You may also work with more than one type of oncologist. Learn more about types of oncologists.

  • Find out whether the doctor participates in your health insurance plan. Many insurance plans allow their members to look up doctors by name or specialty. The doctor’s office staff can tell you which insurance plans they accept.

  • Talk about your choice with family and friends, especially those who have received treatment for the same type of cancer. Ask which doctors they have seen and what their experiences were.

  • Evaluate the doctor's credentials. Find out whether the doctor received any advanced training. Confirm that he or she is board certified in oncology. This means that the person has passed a high-level examination.

  • Ask the doctor about his or her practice. How long has the doctor been in practice? How many patients with your type of cancer does the doctor treat each year? For rare types of cancer or special treatments, it may be important to find doctors who have related experience.

  • Ask whether the doctor has access to clinical trials. These are research studies involving people.

  • Find out whether the office has support staff. These people may include:

    • A registered nurse (RN)

    • A social worker

    • A nutritionist

    • A pharmacist

    • A counselor

  • Ask how they would be involved in your care. Learn more about members of the oncology team.

  • Find out how to reach the doctor during off hours, such as weekends and holidays.

  • Ask about treatment centers. Do people receive treatments in the office or at a different location?

  • Ask about special services for patients. This may include reserved parking spaces or discounted parking fees.

  • Arrange to meet the doctor and the staff, either in the office or by phone. This may help you get a sense of how you and the team work together. It is important that you feel comfortable with your doctor and health care team. Be sure the doctor and the health care team talk with you in a way that you understand and answer your questions.

Related Resources

Choosing a Cancer Treatment Facility

Finding a New Doctor

Taking Charge of Your Care