Dr. Malcolm DeCamp, professor and chief of the division of thoracic surgery at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, encourages lung cancer patients to approach their doctors with the following queries:
- What stage is my cancer, and how was that confirmed? Keep in mind that pathologic staging (which may involve biopsies of lymph nodes or other tissues) is more accurate than clinical staging (which relies on imaging studies alone).
- What is the standard of care for the stage of cancer I have? If the treatment suggested by the doctor is not the care standard, then find out why it has been recommended.
- Do you have a multidisciplinary group of physicians that reviews lung cancer cases and makes a consensus treatment recommendation? The group, sometimes called a tumor board, should include representation from thoracic surgery, medical oncology, radiation oncology, diagnostic radiology and pathology.
- If surgery is contemplated, is my surgeon board certified by the American Board of Thoracic Surgery? It’s also helpful to find out whether your surgeon is devoted to thoracic oncology and general thoracic surgery, or whether he or she performs heart surgery in addition lung cancer surgery. Also find out how many lung resections your surgeon performs each year.
- Am I eligible for a clinical trial? If so, ask about the advantages and disadvantages of participation. If not, ask about trials at nearby institutions, where you might be evaluated for participation as part of a second opinion.
- What can I expect if I agree to the treatment you have recommended? Inquire about both survival rates and the expected quality of life.
- Are there alternatives to the treatment that you recommend? Find out the pros and cons of any other appropriate therapies.
Originally published in Chicago Health Spring 2010
Erin O’Donnell is a freelance health and science writer, parent, and graduate of Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. Walks by Lake Michigan make her happy.