Deciding on a Cancer Treatment Plan
Cancer patients have many options to choose from regarding their cancer treatment, including where to receive their cancer care. These suggestions can help you make the right cancer therapy decisions.
By Diane Stresing
Medically Reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH
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A cancer diagnosis will take time to absorb, but you will soon need to start making decisions about your cancer treatment: what type of cancer therapy to have and where to receive your cancer care. These can be daunting decisions, but are made easier with the following advice from a cancer expert and a cancer survivor.
Cancer Treatment: Consider Your Type of Cancer
Your decision starting points include the kind of cancer you have, how common it is, and the most widely recommended treatment.
If patients have a very common cancer, then it probably won’t make much difference where you receive treatment, explains Michael Fisch, MD, PhD, chair of the department of general oncology at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
"For people diagnosed with colorectal cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer — four of the most prevalent types of malignancies that people get — there are many good providers in most towns and small cities," says Dr. Fisch.
Those types of cancers and their treatments are so common that you're likely to get a comparable quality of cancer care anywhere you go. But for less common types of cancers, specialized care therapy can really make a difference, Fisch adds.
"You should pay attention to what's being said and maybe ask the question, 'Is my condition one that might benefit from a second opinion from somebody more specialized in this type of cancer?'" suggests Fisch.
Cancer Treatment: Consider the Costs
Unfortunately, the cost of cancer treatment is often a factor in making decisions. Fisch suggests finding out what is covered by your insurance company. If the same drug is offered two different ways — for instance, chemotherapy may be given intravenously or by pill — there can be significant differences in how much your insurance will pay for each type. Do your homework regarding insurance benefits, then talk to your doctor about any financial restrictions you may have regarding your cancer treatment.
Cancer Treatment: One Woman’s Decisions
Brenda Scruggs, 53, a teacher from Frankfort, Ky., had to make serious decisions about cancer treatment — twice. In 2006, Scruggs was diagnosed with breast cancer. Since it was a common type of cancer and her treatment was routine — surgery and chemotherapy — she decided to stay with doctors and surgeons in her small hometown.
Scruggs was satisfied with the cancer care and treatment she received. But in 2008 her cancer came back and had spread to her liver. The prognosis wasn't good — her local doctors weren't sure what they could do for her, and she opted to see the cancer specialists at the MD Anderson Cancer Center.
“It's considered stage 4,” Scruggs says. “I knew there were chemo[therapies]s out there I could try again, and they could still give me quantity and quality of life. But I just felt like this time I wanted to go and see what kind of options a specialty hospital offered.” For Scruggs, it was a matter of finding a specialist who might have a more effective way to address this advanced cancer rather than accepting the cancer therapy her local doctors could administer.
Scruggs definitely had much to consider — Houston is a long way from Kentucky — but she was lucky enough to have nearly all her medical expenses paid for by her insurance company. Scruggs also had a cancer policy she bought many years ago that covered her travel and lodging expenses.
"Being single, I realize things I had done would have been hard if I had a husband and children — a family that I was to take care of. I was able to make decisions for my health care that others would not be able to do," Scruggs admits.
Today, Scruggs is cancer-free and confident about her decisions, her treatment, and her prognosis.
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