Searching for an Oncology Surgeon

CURE, Winter 2013, Volume 12, Issue 4

Experts emphasize that patients should search for the best surgeon, not just the one who uses a robot.

Experts emphasize that patients should search for the best surgeon, not just the one who uses a robot. Patients should begin by asking their primary care physician or oncologist for recommendations based on expertise, experience and track record. And if they know of other patients with the same disease, ask them about their experiences.

Martin Makary, a surgeon at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, suggests patients get thorough information on all of their surgical options—open, laparoscopic and robotic. To that end, it helps if a surgeon has been trained in and uses all three techniques, depending on the disease and the patient, says Jim Hu, director of urologic robotic and minimally invasive surgery at the University of California, Los Angeles. They should ask about if any research supports its use in particular cases.

As with all operations, the surgeon’s training and experience matter. Hu says indicators of an expert include fellowship training in robot-assisted surgery, publication articles, invited presentations on the topic and hosting fellowships. He also says having performed surgeries live online is an indicator of confidence and experience.

Furthermore, a good surgeon will answer questions, and patients shouldn’t hesitate to ask them, says Kirsten Greene, associate professor of urology at the University of California, San Francisco. Both the benefits and the risks should be reviewed for the specific situation. Patients should ask about the surgeon’s own outcomes with the procedure, including recurrence rates, the incidence of side effects and how many of a particular procedure the surgeon has performed successfully. There’s no agreed-upon number, but within reason, the more, the better, she says.