Key Members of your Treatment Team & Finding Treatment

guideinthefight_colon-cancer-resource

Finding the right people may take time, and that’s okay. Remember that you’re hiring each specialist for a very important job, so hire people you want to work with.

Find people you TRUST that make you feel comfortable. You can meet with more than one doctor to ensure that you’re working with a team that suits your needs.


Key members of your treatment team

A cancer diagnosis requires multiple doctors and specialties. You will be working with a multidisciplinary team (different healthcare professionals with specialized skills and expertise.) Effective teamwork requires collaboration and communication – especially when it comes to your treatment recommendations for comprehensive and high-quality care.

Surgeon or surgical oncologist

Look for a surgeon experienced with colon and rectal cancer (experience is especially important for rectal cancers.) This specialist will want to biopsy your tumor and then surgically remove it (as well as any affected tissue or lymph nodes.) If you are considering liver or lung surgery, find a specialist experienced with colorectal cancer metastasis.

For a referral, visit the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons or call 800.791.0001

Medical oncologist

This doctor specializes in the general diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Oncologists are experts in using medications such as chemotherapy or targeted therapies to treat cancer.

For a medical oncologist, contact the American Society of Clinical Oncology or call 888.651.3038

Radiation oncologist

This doctor specializes in treating cancer with radiation therapy to target and kill cancer cells. Radiation treatment is often used with rectal cancers.

For a radiation oncologist, contact the American Society of Clinical Oncology or call 888.651.3038

Oncology nurse

This nurse specializes in treating the side effects you may experience from colorectal cancer treatment. An oncology nurse will likely be the person administering your treatment, and can be a key resource for information and support.

Oncology social worker

Social workers provide many services to cancer patients and their families. They can serve as a bridge to your medical teams and offer advice and resources to help you and your family through a cancer diagnosis.

Palliative Care Doctor/Nurse

This specialist can work with your treatment team to relieve pain from uncomfortable symptoms. Palliative care can begin at the time of diagnosis and can continue throughout treatment. Working with a palliative care specialist can help make you more comfortable throughout the treatment process.

Hospice Care

These professionals focus on providing the best quality of life to an individual at the end of their life. Unlike palliative care, hospice care is usually provided to patients with a life expectancy of less than six months.


Communicating with your Healthcare Team

To help ensure you and your caregiver have productive conversations with your healthcare team at every appointment, here are some tips on how to stay organized during and after treatment:

1. Carry a notebook.

Keep track of what you learn along the way. Make notes about

  • Questions: Anytime a question comes to mind – write it down. When you get answers, write that down too so you can remember what you’re told. You’ll have questions about everything from reactions to treatment, symptoms, follow-up plans and logistics.
  • Side effects: Keep track of the symptoms or side effects that make you uncomfortable or stop you from doing things you enjoy. This will remind you to ask about relieving those problems and help you to remember strategies that did or didn’t work. (Download the Side Effects Management Chart)
  • Medications & Supplements: It is important to tell your physician about all supplements or over-the-counter (OTC) medications you are taking. Each physician will need to know this information because some can adversely affect your treatment or react badly with certain cancer drugs. Keeping your list in one place, will not only help you, it can help your caregiver, family members, and doctors keep track of your complete medical care (including medication for diabetes, cholesterol, or anything else (Download the Medication Management Chart.) 
  • Your “to do” list: It’s always helpful to stay organized by keeping your to-do list with your calendar. It will help you remember what medications to take and when, remind you of your next medical appointment and help you keep track of when you need help to get something done with work, family or other responsibilities. This can be done on paper (Download the Help I Need Worksheet) or with organizing apps like “My Cancer Circle,” a free app by Lotsa Helping Hands.

2. Bring someone with you to appointments.

It’s okay to ask for help. It is hard to manage all of the information and emotions that accompany a colorectal cancer diagnosis. A second set of ears can be very helpful at medical appointments. A friend or family member can help you remember things you might forget, take notes and discuss what you heard.

3. Use an online scheduler/planner.

The added complexity of managing colorectal cancer treatment thrown into an already busy life can feel overwhelming without organization. An online planner can be used to recruit and coordinate help when you need it. This can help friends and family see how they can help you and offer assistance with everyday tasks like driving you to medical appointments, preparing dinner, watching kids or making phone calls. Get help when you need it. Consider resources like Lotsa Helping Hands or My Lifeline.


Finding the Best Treatment & Doctor

Fight Colorectal Cancer cannot recommend any one particular physician or institution. However, we do always recommend that when possible, patients be treated at a comprehensive cancer center. Oftentimes, a comprehensive care center can recommend a treatment plan that may be executed at home, if you prefer.

Take your time to find a top-notch team of medical professionals who combine skill, experience and open communication.

Although most patients are very frightened at their cancer diagnosis and want to get started on treatment immediately, taking the time to be sure of your team’s qualifications from the start will save problems later on and will help improve your chances for long-term survival.

Choose team members where:

  • Each doctor on the team is board-certified in his or her specialty. The American Board of Medical Specialties has a video that may help you understand choosing a doctor.
  • If possible, the doctor practices within a large medical center or a comprehensive cancer center such as a member of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.
  • Your doctors have expertise in colon or rectal cancer.
  • Team members are involved with cancer clinical trials or willing to refer you to someone else who is.
  • You feel comfortable and unrushed during office visits.
  • The doctor shows an interest in you and is willing for you to be as active a partner in your treatment plan as you are comfortable being.
  • The office is well-run: phones are answered promptly, calls are returned, appointments are made a within reasonable time, patients are seen without long waits and all staff members are friendly and helpful.
  • Hospitals where you have surgery or other treatments do many similar procedures each year.
  • Your doctor accepts your insurance and admits patients to a hospital that accepts your insurance. Discuss these financial issues frankly upfront, including co-pays and other expenses that you might personally have.

Remember: The doctor who was ideal for a neighbor or friend might not be the best one for you. Check credentials and how well a potential physician’s communication style meets your own needs.

Where To Go for More Info:

Cancer.Net:  Oncologist-approved cancer info & questions to ask your doctor.
The Patient Advocate Foundation:  May be able to help with insurance coverage or other financial issues. 1-800-532-5274
Map of the National Cancer Institute’s centers in the U.S.:   how to find one locally.


Finding Treatment Services

Investigate your options. Look to see if there are a variety of hospitals or medical facilities in your town or city, as this may help you to better understand the services available to you.

This is especially important if you have metastatic CRC, because some treatment options are not available in a community clinic. You may need to look into other cities or nearby treatment options.

For a complete list of National Comprehensive Cancer Network institutions, also with a full range of experienced staff, contact the National Comprehensive Cancer Network or the National Cancer Institute (or call 800.422.6237)

Content medically-reviewed by members of the Fight Colorectal Cancer Medical Advisory Board, February 2014

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