What questions should you ask when choosing a hospital for cancer treatment?

March 14, 2017 in Disease Management  •  By Miles Varn
cancer treatment

Where you go for cancer treatment can have a significant impact on your outcome. A recent study found that people who did not receive care at a National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated comprehensive cancer center were 20% to 50% more likely to die from the disease than those who did undergo cancer treatment at an NCI-designated center.

The study looked at the five-year survival rate of a group of 70,000 people between the ages of 22 and 65 who were newly diagnosed with breast, colorectal, lung, pancreatic, gastric, or bile duct cancer. Patients who did not receive their initial treatment at one of the country’s 69 NCI designated comprehensive cancer centers had an increased risk of dying. The researchers posit that the improved outcomes were a result of the centers’ multidisciplinary approach to care and access to a range of cutting-edge treatment options, including clinical trials.

How to choose a cancer treatment center

If you have been diagnosed with an aggressive, rare, complex, or advanced cancer, you may want to seek care at an NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center, even if there isn’t a center located near your home. If that’s not an option, there are a number of questions you can ask that can help you find a cancer treatment center that follows many of the care guidelines that NCI-designated centers follow.

  • Is the hospital accredited by the Commission on Cancer? The American College of Surgeons’ Commission on Cancer program assesses and accredits hospital’s cancer treatment programs across the U.S. The program’s online search tool can help you find an accredited cancer treatment center in your region.
  • How many patients with the same type and stage of cancer that you’ve been diagnosed with does the hospital treat each year? Higher volumes of patients mean that the treatment team has more experience, which studies have linked to better outcomes.
  • What are the hospital’s outcome data for treatment of people with the type and stage of cancer you have? Ask for five-year survival rates, readmission rates, and complication rates. You should also ask for the same data from the physicians who will make up your treatment team.
  • Does the hospital take a multidisciplinary approach to care? When cancer treatment is delivered by a team rather than a series of individual physicians, the risk of medical errors and miscommunication can be lower. Your multidisciplinary team may include a surgical, medical, and/or radiation oncologist, dedicated oncology nurses, dietitian or nutritional specialist, and mental health counselor. You may also want to find out if complementary medical treatments are available to help you manage the side effects of treatment. A health advisor can also be a valuable team member, providing information on treatment options, connections to specialists, and support during and after treatment.
  • Are clinical trials for the type of cancer you’ve been diagnosed with available at the hospital? Clinical trials expand the range of available treatment options to include the latest breakthroughs in cancer treatment. Ask if clinical trials are available at the hospital and whether you qualify for inclusion in the trial.

Gathering and comparing information about the hospitals where you’re considering receiving cancer treatment can help you make an informed decision about where to receive care.