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Choosing Your Doctors and Care Centers

You should have choices about who gives you breast cancer care and what your care will be. You should have a choice among a range of doctors who live near you. That way you can find one you respect and want to work with. You should have the choice to work with breast cancer specialists near you. But you should also be able to choose a cancer center much farther away if you want. Finding a doctor who makes you feel comfortable can take time and energy.

It's worth trying to find the doctor you want. Don't settle for the first doctors you see unless you're sure they are right for you. You have a right to your likes and dislikes. Your care may take months. And you may need years of follow-up care. So it's important to find a doctor you like and can work with.

What You Can Do:

Find the best doctor for you.

Who is the best doctor? That's the first question many people ask when they face breast cancer. We can't give you a list of good doctors. That's because a doctor that's "good" for one patient may not be "good" for another. Patients care about personal style, ways of communicating, and how easy it is to see their doctors. These things count along with what the doctors know about treating breast cancer.

You have a right to work with doctors you like. For example, do you want a doctor with a sense of humor? Do you want straight talk and the facts? Other breast cancer patients in your area can tell you about the doctors they know. They can tell you if certain doctors listen, answer questions, and give clear information. But remember that one patient can adore a doctor that another patient dislikes.

Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book has a good list of questions to think about when choosing a doctor. Some of this information is also available on her web site. Here are a few questions you might not have thought of:

  • Do they let you tape-record your time together?
  • Do they offer other sources of education and support?
  • Do they talk about clinical trials?

Remember--no single doctor has all the answers. But your doctor should tell you things in a supportive way. Your doctor should welcome your questions. Find another doctor if yours is not supportive or acts bothered by your questions. Most patients can safely take time to find the right doctor.

Know who is on your team before you start treatment.

Ask your doctors who they work with. Many doctors work as a team. So surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, and others work together to treat one patient. Doctors who do this usually have certain doctors they like to work with. Also ask your doctors who will be the leader of your medical team. This person should make sure everyone knows what is happening. This is called "coordinating" your care. Your surgeon or medical oncologist may play this role. Ask to be sure that someone is taking this role. If you can, be involved in choosing everyone on your care team.

Tips for Choosing Doctors and Care Centers

16. Additional training is sometimes provided through a fellowship (for example, in medical oncology or therapeutic radiology/radiation oncology) after the doctor has completed a residency. Not everyone who completes a fellowship is Board-certified. Board certification means that doctors have taken and passed an examination on the specialty in which they've been trained. So, there's an additional level of quality here. The best is Board certification. The second best is someone who has done a fellowship in the relevant specialty but is not Board-certified, followed by someone who has completed a residency but not a fellowship.

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2001, 2002, 2006 National Breast Cancer Coalition Fund
Last reviewed: March 2006