Evaluating Your Cancer Care Team

It is recommended that patients receive treatment from multidisciplinary teams; ideally, the team members will specialize and have expertise in head and neck cancer. Head and neck cancer is a relatively rare type of cancer; head and neck cancer comprises only 3 percent of all cancer types in the United States.

Several studies have evaluated the characteristics of either physicians and/or health care facilities to affect outcomes. These studies have limitations: the studies were done using patients with different types of cancer and all studies did not evaluate the same characteristics.

Characteristics associated with physicians that contributed to improved outcomes were as follows:

  • Performing a high volume of surgeries versus a low volume
  • Specialists with expertise in the type of cancer versus generalists

Characteristics associated with hospitals that contributed to improved outcomes were as follows:

  • Hospitals that performed a high volume of surgeries had improved patient survival rates of 19 to 60 percent compared to hospitals that performed a low volume of surgeries.
  • Hospitals that provided other specialized services had an improved reduction of treatment side effects.
  • National Cancer Institute (NCI) hospitals had lower mortality rates versus non-NCI hospitals.

Treatment can also occur at NCI-designated centers. These centers offer the following advantages: multidisciplinary teams; access to clinical trials, which may be ideal for patients with very advanced head and neck cancer who have few treatment options; and specialization in rare cancers.

In summary, you may want to reflect on whether the following characteristics in a doctor and/or hospital are important to you. If so, do the research to see if the cancer treatment team and facility meets your criteria. Which of the following are important to you?

  • Having a multidisciplinary team
  • Having clinicians and/or a hospital center with a specialty in head and neck cancer
  • Health care professionals and/or hospitals that perform high numbers of particular medical procedures
  • The hospital or center is NCI-designated
  • Receiving treatment at a location near your home, friends and family
I would recommend getting one or two or three more opinions, because that can truly change the outcome long-term. No matter what kind of cancer you’re diagnosed with, it’s a very long process and a very grueling process. And there are options. Bridget D. (mother of a neuroblastoma survivor)