Definition & Overview
If your primary care physician suspects cancer after diagnosing your symptoms, it is likely that you’ll be referred to a medical oncologist (cancer specialist) for further diagnosis and treatment. At this point, it’s important to understand that the process of correctly diagnosing the type of cancer, how far it has spread throughout your body and the best possible treatment options will require the services of more than one cancer specialist.
Your primary care physician and medical oncologist will likely be your primary doctors. Your case will also be likely to be handled by several other specialists, such as a radiation oncologist or an oncologist that specializes in cancer that affects a certain body part.
Therefore, it is possible that you will undergo several oncology consultations with different specialists throughout the duration of your treatment.
The purpose of this consultation is to gather all the necessary information that can help in providing an accurate diagnosis of your condition. The oncologist will also explain your situation and answer any questions you may have.
If your primary care physician referred you to a medical oncologist for consultation, the oncologist would review your medical history even though you’ve already undergone the same process with your primary doctor. The oncologist will ensure that you know everything there is to know about your condition, so if you have any questions, make sure that you voice them out and that you understand the explanation.
Who Should Undergo and Expected Results
The procedure is recommended for patients who are suspected of having cancer.
Diagnosing cancer is an arduous process. Oncologists need to view the whole picture to come up with an accurate diagnosis and the best possible treatment option. To do this, they gather all available information, which includes any symptoms you’re experiencing.
Prior to the consultation, it would be helpful to make a note of the symptoms you’re experiencing, when you first noticed them, any medications you’ve been taking, and other details you think may help in diagnosing your condition. No one knows your body better than you do. Doctors cannot feel your symptoms, so they’ll rely on you to provide them with as much information as possible.
You’ll also need to prepare yourself psychologically and emotionally. To some people, there’s nothing worse than being told of the possibility of cancer. This information alone can already affect your mental and emotional state. However, you should know that your psychological and emotional approach to your condition will also affect you physically. During these times, it will help if you have the support of the people that are close to you. They can help you maintain a positive attitude towards the situation.
Patients who undergo this procedure can expect to receive a diagnosis of their condition (either a confirmation that they indeed have cancer or they don’t), how the disease has progressed (cancer staging), and their available treatment options.
How Does the Procedure Work?
The procedure typically starts with the oncologist reviewing your medical records that are forwarded by your primary care physician. These include all the test results, including MRIs, CT scans, blood tests, biopsy results, and any other tests you underwent.
You should also bring any medications you’re currently taking including food supplements, vitamins, and any other herbal products.
It is best if a family member or someone close accompanies you. It’s often difficult to keep an open mind during an oncology consultation. Most people become very emotional and this can affect the transfer of information.
After reviewing your medical history and test results, the oncologist will either confirm your diagnosis of cancer, or provide a negative diagnosis. It is also possible that you will be asked to undergo more tests. The oncologist will discuss your disease in detail and will provide you with an opportunity to ask questions.
You should take this opportunity to voice out all of your concerns, which is why it’s important that you note down all of your questions prior to the consultation. It’s important that you understand the treatment method, why that particular method was chosen, and what to expect after treatment. You’ll also need to know what would happen should the particular treatment fail.
Your oncologist will then present a prognosis and a treatment plan. Oncologists are very direct when informing patients of their prognosis, even in cases where there is no known cure for cancer.
The doctor will then present a treatment plan. If your cancer is incurable, you’ll be presented with a plan that will help you cope with your condition, slow down the progression of the disease, and reduce the symptoms. Cancer therapies for cases wherein the disease cannot be cured have been proven effective in improving the quality of life of the patient and even extending life expectancy.
Possible Complications and Risks
Unlike an actual medical procedure, a consultation in itself does not present any complications and risks. However, it’s important to understand that an oncologist’s diagnosis relies heavily on the information provided to them. Although rare, incorrect or incomplete information, such as test results and medical history, can result in a false positive or false negative diagnosis.
- American College of Physicians: "Oncology I Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention."