Kathy LaTour is a breast cancer survivor, author of The Breast Cancer Companion and co-founder of CURE magazine. While cancer did not take her life, she has given it willingly to educate, empower and enlighten the newly diagnosed and those who care for them.
What can cancer centers boast that they do better than another?
It’s hard not to notice that cancer is big business these days. With the numbers of people being diagnosed and the increasingly knowledgeable patient, it was only a matter of time before even the smallest town had a cancer center.
While that may sound great, it may lead to the assumption that all cancer centers are equal, no matter where they are located and whether they are for-profit or nonprofit. And, with the ability of patients to travel, it has also led to advertising by cancer centers.
What can cancer centers boast that they do better than another? Cancer treatments may vary somewhat, but for the most part, they are the same no matter where you are treated. A philosophy of treatment may vary from one center to another, as may procedures, but I wonder if this can really affect the outcome. Would you live longer or find a cure at one cancer center over another?
And what are the reasons for traveling to a cancer center far from home? I had a friend ask me if I would recommend to a newly diagnosed person that they do not pass go and take off immediately for one of the top cancer centers in the country.
My answer: it depends.
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has a list of comprehensive cancer centers that are given the designation based on whether they offer patients such things as clinical trials, research and other resources.
Clinical trials could make the difference, and any oncologist at any cancer center should be able to tell you what trials are out there and whether you are eligible. Enrolling patients in clinical trials depends on a number of things that your oncologist should be able to explain.
Other factors I would consider are the kind of cancer. Is the cancer one that is seen often, or is it rare? If rare, or if the patient is dealing with a return or metastasis of the cancer, it’s time to research where you will find the top researchers in the country in regard to that cancer. In addition, in the large cancer centers there are oncologists who specialize in particular cancers. While it used to be that all oncologists were generalists and treated all cancers, today, in part because treatments have become so complicated, oncologists have begun to specialize.
Treatment for many cancers requires the art of the practitioner as well as the science behind the drugs. In these cases, you bet I would recommend the person find the expert in that particular field.
What has to be weighed here is traveling far from home for treatment. It’s a choice many have to make to begin with, because they are in rural areas or areas not served by a cancer center. Cancer is exhausting, and traveling for treatment adds cost and stress to an already unbearable time.
Bottom line: If you are diagnosed with cancer, research the options. Look into it. There are a number of things that mark a good cancer treatment center. Ask if they offer clinical trials, which suggests a level of professionalism and research that says you will get the latest in care. If you can see from the doctor you are talking to that he or she has never seen your kind of cancer, find the doctor who has, no matter how far you have to travel.
And, like all advertising, look at cancer ads with a grain of salt.