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When you have been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer such as mesothelioma, finding a doctor who is familiar with the disease and its treatment is an important consideration. Health care available at the local level may suffice if you choose “standard” care options such as chemotherapy, however, if you are looking into surgical evaluation or other specialized forms of treatment, it becomes more important to expand your search for doctors who deal with mesothelioma on a regular basis and have experience in the most up to date protocols available.

Second opinions are common when dealing with a rare cancer, and after listening carefully to your primary doctor’s opinions and treatment plans, you may wish to consult with a more specialized physician before making a treatment decision. By doing this, you can feel comfortable that you have explored every avenue possible and have information on every available option. Your primary doctor may be able to refer you to a specialist, or you can do this on your own as a “self referral”. In either case, you should be sure your primary doctor is aware that you are satisfied with the care you have been given thus far, but because of the rarity of the disease, you would like to be as thoroughly informed as possible. No good doctor should feel threatened that you want to seek a second opinion – it is simply being a good consumer.

A “specialist” is a physician who is licensed to practice medicine, has met certain education and training criteria in a specific field and has passed an examination given by a specialty board. These doctors are then “board certified” in their field. A physician may also choose a “subspecialty” to further increase their expertise and become board certified in the subspecialty as well. Nearly all board certified specialists are members of a medical specialty society that relates to their field of specialization.

Following are some examples of specialties and subspecialties as applies to mesothelioma treatment:

  • Surgery is a specialty that pertains to the treatment of disease by surgical operation on any area of the body. Doctors who conduct these types of surgeries are called general surgeons. An example of a surgical subspecialty would be a thoracic surgeon who deals specifically with diseases of the chest area.
  • Medical Oncology is a subspecialty of internal medicine. Medical oncologists treat cancer and most often manage treatment plans such as chemotherapy. They may also consult with or refer to other types of specialists.
  • Radiation Oncology is a subspecialty of radiology. Radiation oncologists specialize in the use of radiation to treat cancer.

In order to make an informed decision when choosing your doctor, consider the following questions:

  • Does the doctor have the education and training necessary to meet my needs, and does he or she have experience in treating mesothelioma?
  • How many cases of mesothelioma has he or she treated in the past year? In their career?
  • Has the doctor given you information on mesothelioma itself, and on the various treatment options you might be eligible for?
  • Does the doctor listen to your concerns and treat you with respect?
  • Does the doctor encourage you to ask questions and explain things in terms that you understand?

When choosing a surgeon, considering the following questions:

  • Is the surgeon board certified?
  • Does the surgeon belong to a medical specialty society such as The American College of Surgeons?
  • How often does the surgeon perform the type of surgery you need?
  • How many such surgeries has the doctor performed?
  • Has the doctor explained the surgical procedure to you, as well as the risk factors, side effects, quality of life and success rates you might expect?

It is important to you and your family to have a good working relationship with whichever doctor you choose, and to be able to communicate and be involved in decisions regarding your medical care. Always trust your own feelings.

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