In his 1971 state of the union address, President Nixon called for a cure to cancer.
Since then there has been $200 billion dollars spent and despite the research efforts put forth, cancer is responsible for 13% of all deaths and is predicted to overtake heart disease claiming more than a half million lives annually.
Why is this challenge proving to be so difficult? The answer lies in the individuality of our DNA. Cancer is a disease of our cells. When a normal cell divides, the cell’s DNA is copied more or less perfectly, however, each division brings about subtle and unique changes in the DNA. Although similar, one person’s cancerous cells are not exactly like someone else’s with the same “type” of cancer. The unpredictable nature of cancer cells makes broad cures elusive.
There will never be a single cure for cancer because cancer refers to a family of more than 100 different diseases. Different cancers require different treatments, hence understanding your cancer and your diagnosis is imperative to choosing the right cancer care team for your journey.
Things to consider when choosing your care team
- Are they board certified in Hematology and/or Oncology?
- How many cases of your cancer do they treat a year?
- Do they participate in clinical research?
- How do they stay current on medical research and clinical advances?
- Do they listen to you and explain things in a way that you understand?
- Do you trust them?
- Are you comfortable with them and their staff?
- How do they feel about second opinions?
*Not everyone will need a second opinion; however, if your team does not want you to pursue one that is a good clue that you should get one.
It is important to understand that not all oncologists have the same expertise.
For example, in 2015 the American Medical Association listed 14,000 medical oncologists in the US and 511 gynecologic oncologists. Both specialties treat cancer, however, medical oncologists have broad clinical experience and knowledge of a variety of cancers. Gynecologic oncologists focus specifically on cancers that are located on a woman’s reproductive organs. Gynecologic oncologists have completed obstetrics and gynecology residency and then pursued subspecialty training through a gynecologic oncology fellowship.
If you are diagnosed with ovarian cancer, a medical oncologist will be able to treat you, however, a gynecologic oncologist would have seen more cases of this type of cancer and be well versed in the latest treatments and research specifically for this cancer type.
Within a multi-physician oncology practice you may find that the medical oncologists differentiate their focus based on a specific tumor type allowing the practice to offer expertise in a variety of cancers.
It is important for you to ask yourself, how experienced is the oncologist with my cancer type? And, do I want the second opinion of an expert?
Your care team should be willing to assist you in obtaining second opinions and collaborating with experts in the field to provide you with the most relevant and effective treatment for your cancer. Often times the recommendations of an expert can be delivered by your local medical oncologist in his/her practice.