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National Cancer Institute


Cancer Diagnosis: Strategies for Getting the Best Treatment

By Patricia Walter

As a patient with cancer, two of the most important decisions you will make are which treatment you will receive and where.

But diagnosing cancer is a very complex process that involves many health care professionals. In addition, the testing that is done on patients varies between doctors and specialists. And even the best health care professionals make mistakes.

How do newly diagnosed patients know they are getting the best therapy for their cancer?

Unfortunately, most patients don’t get the best treatment because they are diagnosed by a doctor who is not an oncologist. Therefore, that doctor is not likely to direct them to the most up-to-date therapies available.

The first step toward getting what you need is to get a second opinion. The Institute for Advanced Study in Medicine reported that 25% of patients had their treatment changed based on a second opinion.

Comprehensive Cancer Centers are the best places to get second opinions. That’s where the experts are, doctors who think about your type of cancer every day. And that’s what you want.

If you aren’t near a National Cancer Institute-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center or Clinical Cancer Center (you can find their locations online), you can still get a second opinion. Choose a doctor who is not affiliated with your doctor, and who is at a hospital that is not affiliated with your doctor’s hospital.

Another important part of getting the best therapy is to get a second opinion on your cancer by an expert pathologist. This involves getting the biopsy specimen to an outside pathologist.

Pathologists can’t always precisely determine the stage of cancer, and sometimes not even the type of cancer. And, sometimes tests that could be done on your biopsy specimen aren’t, simply because they aren’t commonly used. But that doesn’t mean these tests won’t help you.

You need an expert to examine your biopsy specimens. For example, The Armed Forces Institute of Pathology has an excellent reputation in pathology.

Another important thing to do when you are first diagnosed is to contact the organizations for your type of cancer. They can lead you to experts in that field. Finally, get good nutritional counseling, and if you smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol, try your best to stop.

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