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Choosing the right oncosurgeon

Choosing the right oncosurgeon

 Fear, anger, disbelief, rejection… these are just some of the emotions that a person goes through when they hear a diagnosis of cancer.

This is true for almost all cancer patients, but equally true is the fact that they all come to terms with it… some sooner, some a bit later. And the sooner you make peace with the reality, the faster you can start taking proactive steps to wage a battle against cancer.

There are different cancers and different stages which call for different treatment modalities. Some may require chemotherapy, some radiation therapy, some may require surgery, and some may require a combination of two or more of the above interventions.

In this article we are focusing primarily on choosing an oncosurgeon, (if you have been advised surgery) since getting operated is always a scary thought and choosing a surgeon is the hardest part. unless you have full faith and confidence in the competence and credibility of your oncosurgeon, you will always have second thoughts. So choose wisely.

Let us try and understand how we can make this choice, a well informed and a well researched one:

  1. Referring Physician: This would most probably be your family doctor or physician. They are the ones who are most familiar with your medical history and also the ones you have the most faith in. They have, in all probability, referred you to an oncosurgeon, who is best suited to treat your particular type of cancer. They would also be the ones who would be closely involved with you and the operating doctor throughout the course of your treatment. So your best bet would be to consult with the specialist, they have referred to.
  2. Second opinion: Whatever your stage of cancer, there is always time for a second opinion. A second opinion is important as it helps you to compare treatment protocols. Check whether the recommendations of the 2 doctors match each other or there is a difference of opinion. Also helps to compare other things such as facilities offered, choice of hospital, techniques of surgery, cost of treatment, etc. It helps you make a more informed decision. Remember, in the end its your choice.
  3. Background search: It wouldn’t hurt to do some background research about the doctor you have been referred to on your own, either on the internet or through your friends and family who have had some direct or indirect experience about that cancer specialist. This research should typically be focused on:
    1. The credentials of the oncosurgeon. What is his/her degree? Is it from a reputed institution and/or national or state board? Have they done any specialisation in the field of oncosurgery?
    2. Do they focus on any specific organ or do they perform multi-organ surgeries.
    3. Are there any advanced techniques which they are skilled in such as robotic surgery, minimally invasive surgery, or any technique which they have patented or pioneered in?
    4. Have they received any special training in treating your specific type of cancer?
    5. What is their ability to handle complicated cases as well as what is the percentage of complications expected and encountered by them specific to your type of cancer?If you don’t find answers to any of the questioned mentioned above or have any other questions in mind, you can always ask them to the doctor, without being embarrassed about it. Its your right to know.
  4.  Experience of the oncosurgeon: experience both in terms of number of years in practice as well as the number of surgeries performed. A doctor who has more experience in operating on a certain type or types of cancers, has more experience in dealing with intraoperative complications and resolving them and consequently has more likelihood of giving better results.
  5. Personality: Many would argue that the personality of a doctor or their approach towards the patient has nothing to do with his/her skills in the operation theater, but there is an important component of any doctor-patient relationship and that is “the comfort level.” Unless you are comfortable sharing your doubts and queries with the doctor and get the feeling that the doctor is genuinely interested in hearing your problems and always has your best interest at their heart, you would not like to get operated from such a doctor, however competent or reputed. So the most important thing to look for in a doctor is approachability. He/she should have a pleasant personality, make you feel important, be willing to clear all your doubts, however silly, and most importantly take your preferences and wishes into consideration.
  6. Additional facilities: A cancer surgery is not a walk-in, walk- out procedure. The entire process may take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. So, many other factors should be taken into consideration while selecting an oncosurgeon:
    1. Is he/she going to operate in a multispeciality hospital with state of the art latest equipments and a large ICU setup with round the clock monitoring
    2. what are the types of accommodation facilities at the hospital for you and your attendant, relative or friend.
    3.  Does he/she have a team of doctors which can handle other related aspects of the disease such as, your medicine or surgical side effects like pain, nausea, vomiting, infections, etc.
    4. Does he/she have a team of support staff such as an on-call secretary through whom you can be in constant touch with your surgeon, a billing assistant, a mental health counsellor, a follow- up counsellor, a diet counsellor, a physical therapist etc.
    5. what are the modes of payment accepted by your surgeon and the hospital. Do they have cashless mediclaim facility, do they have medical loan facility, do they have installment facilities etc.
  7. Patient testimonials and reviews: Nothing puts a troubled mind to ease more than knowing that someone else has gone through what you are going through right now and come out victorious. So reading testimonials of other patients who have been treated by the doctor of your choice is the best way to judge the competence of your doctor. You should be able to find patient testimonials at your oncosurgeons office either in written form or as a video. Alternatively you can ask for contact number of patients who are willing to share their story. You would be surprised, that most of the times, you will find answers to questions you had never even thought of. You can also read reviews on social media and the internet, but beware, along with genuine reviews, there are a lot of negative comments posted by people with mala fide interests. Use your better judgement.
  8. Be informed, but not influenced: Information is never a bad thing. But knowing the difference between the right and the wrong kind of information is of paramount importance, especially when it relates to something as serious as cancer. For every 1 piece of well researched, well documented, scientifically and  medically proven treatment modality, there are hundreds of baseless claims, unresearched, unproven alternative treatments offered with the promise of a sureshot cure. Please don’t believe in it. Not only do they give you false hope, they end up creating more confusion and chaos, which delays your treatment and reduces your chances of a quick recovery. It is a good idea to learn more about your disease, the kind of treatment options available, the latest developments and research in the field. It helps you frame your questions, more accurately for your doctor. And if you have read or heard about any such alternative treatment option, place it in front your oncosurgeon during your consultation. They will be more than willing to clear your doubts.  Finally, just like there are no guarantees in life, so too, no cancer surgeon can guarantee that you would be totally cured or that there wont be any complications during or after your surgery. But if you have taken the efforts to do due-diligence while selecting your surgeon, it will stack the odds highly in your favour.

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