With almost two decades of involvement in the cancer arena, both personally and professionally, I know that sound decision-making is key to quality of life and survivorship. Explore 6 areas that are vital to finding the best quality of care and treatments in the cancer journey.
- Assessing Roles in Decision-Making
Some cancer patients want their oncologist to make all of the decisions. Beyond a direct oncologist-patient connection, there are myriad combinations. One may wish to have a loved one onboard, or a larger team of professionals, friends, and family with various roles. Ultimately the act of assessment, or evaluation, is listing what you have to deal with and the pros and cons of involving others. Assessing your role takes energy and self-awareness at a time when you are most fragile. Prioritize yourself for this critical decision and be prepared to revisit and modify it.
- Understanding Choices: Hospitals, Clinics, Oncologists, and Treatments for your Condition
In the US, 80% of cancer patients are treated at community hospitals. However, NCI-Designated Cancer Centers deliver cutting-edge cancer treatments to patients in 69 hospitals, located in 35 states and the District of Columbia. Because each center focuses on specific patient services and has a central focus to their research, it’s important to understand how that fits with your cancer. Additionally, U.S. News and World Report Best Hospitals for Cancer shares their scores and rankings—the review must be done with a full assessment. Obtaining information, including how a community hospital might communicate with an NCI center, is vital because some studies indicate that NCI-Designated Cancer Centers provide a higher survival rate compared to community hospitals.
- Collecting Multiple Opinions
In order to make the most educated and informed decision, it’s essential to obtain a second, third, and even a fourth, opinion. Some hospitals are known to be more aggressive in treating cancer—this may or may not be in your best interest. When you have received all the opinions, filter through them and prepare to ask questions of each oncologist to explain any differences in treatment options. This is a proactive strategy. It can be intimidating, but are an important process to undertake, given the level of professionals you’re dealing with.
- Researching Clinical Trials
Some cancer patients benefit from knowing about and understanding potential treatments and combinations in development, and how to explore those possibilities of options. Clinical trials are conducted by researchers to evaluate new treatments and other approaches. Based on your situation, consider looking into clinical trials related to your condition. Resources include ClinicalTrials.gov with a search system, and EmergingMed that identifies trials for cancer patients. Also, hospitals can provide a list of some clinical trials on their website.
- Using Integrative Cancer Care
Research demonstrates that 5% to 10% of all cancers are caused by inherited genetic mutations, and the remaining 90% to 95% are linked to lifestyle factors and the environment. Integrative cancer care for the whole person can greatly improve quality of life, cancer survival, and cancer prevention. It addresses the entire physical body, mind-body connection, spiritual vitality, social support, and the benefits of a cleaner environment. Cancer patients experience profound change through integrative models, including self-care strategies, and can be coached through a part of, or the entire, journey.
- Understanding Alternative Cancer Treatments
Choices for optimal health and healing include the consideration of alternative cancer treatments, exclusively or in combination with conventional and/or integrative ones. With each choice, the most successful individuals are those who enlist the aid of experts to thoroughly research the options.
Challenges in the cancer journey can be transformed into opportunities, and adversity into positive actions. We each hold the key to being our own best advocate, and asking for help.