Q: I was recently diagnosed with cancer. What factors should I take into consideration when choosing a cancer center?

A: As a medical oncologist, I often receive phone calls from friends and neighbors when they are at their most vulnerable, right after a cancer diagnosis. Amid their surprise and shock, they ask for advice about where to go for treatment.

Here is a summary of things every newly diagnosed cancer patient should consider when deciding where to go for cancer care.

  1. Comprehensive care: A cancer program tied to a full-service hospital with a network of primary-care and specialty physicians who can closely coordinate outpatient, inpatient, and emergency care is key. Although most newly diagnosed patients have a singular goal — to survive and beat their cancer — there are more things to consider. Cancer patients often have other medical problems, which require ongoing care, particularly as cancer treatments improve and patients do better over longer periods of time. This is increasingly important in an era where targeted therapies and immunotherapy are playing larger roles. Side effects of these treatments can require the expertise of gastroenterologists, endocrinologists, cardiologists, and pulmonologists, to name a few. Side effects can occur after hours and on the weekends, and it's best when medical records are available to ER staff if and when a cancer patient winds up in the ER. So choose a center that has a full-service hospital behind it.
  2. A multidisciplinary approach: Treating cancer requires a team coordinating, recommending, and carrying out a treatment plan. Specialists such as medical oncologists, surgeons, radiation oncologists, pathologists, and nurses should discuss each individual's diagnosis and treatment options together to develop the best plan.
  3. Clinical trials: As new advances are made every day in clinical research, clinical trials can be an important option for cancer patients, especially those who have rare or aggressive cancers.
  4. NCI designation: The National Cancer Institute designation reflects the gold standard of cancer care. NCI-designated centers provide access to the latest technologies for cancer prevention, detection, and management.
  5. Supportive, compassionate care: Above all, choose a center where the patient feels comfortable and confident in the care. Providers such as nurse navigators, for instance, help patients feel at ease by filling in gaps in information and answering questions about diagnoses and treatment options. Services such as image recovery, nutrition counseling, financial counseling, and social work should be all in one place so coordination is easy for patients during the most stressful time.

Steven J. Cohen, M.D. is the medical director of Abington-Jefferson Health's Asplundh Cancer Pavilion in Willow Grove and vice chair of the department of medical oncology at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson in Philadelphia.