3 More Key Pieces Of Advice From Black Doctors About Cancer

This blog was originally published in Essence.

TIP #1: Seek out a specialist
While an oncologist—that’s a doctor who specializes in cancer—is a critical part of your cancer-fighting team, a 2002 study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that African-Americans with lung cancer are less likely than any other race to see one. If you or someone you know is diagnosed with cancer, insist a specialist be involved with care.

And know that even within the field of oncology, there are specialists. “If you’ve been told you might have ovarian cancer or uterine cancer, for example, it’s very important that you see a gynecologic oncologist,” says Brown. “We have special training in surgery and chemotherapy focused on cancers of the ovaries, uterus, cervix, vulva and vagina.” She adds that some oncologists, whether their title implies it or not, do have specialties, so you should ask about their background. “At cancer centers, some medical oncologists only treat breast cancer or only treat lung cancer,” says Brown. You can find a specialist through the Women’s Cancer Network Web site (wcn.org), by contacting cancer centers you’ll find on the National Cancer Institute Web site, or by calling local hospitals for recommendations.

TIP #2: Get a second opinion
“Sometimes you only get one shot at this, so you want to be sure you make the best possible decision you can. You want to be clear about what all your options are,” suggests Green.

Initially, you need to do your homework. “The first second opinion should be yours,” advises Green, who encourages patients diagnosed with cancer to research their condition for any options their doctor hasn’t mentioned. Your current doctor, a major medical teaching hospital or even friends and family can offer recommendations for other doctors. Just be sure to call your insurance company and see what its policy is. “In most cases,” says Green, “particularly with surgery and cancer, the company may require you to get a second opinion.”

TIP #3: Never go it alone
If you’re diagnosed with cancer, don’t navigate the system by yourself. You may be too overwhelmed during doctor’s appointments or confused about how your health insurance works to look out for yourself. With a friend or family member by your side though, you’ve got someone to help write down all of your appointment times so you don’t miss one, or even arrange for friends and neighbors to rotate accompanying you to chemotherapy or radiation treatments.

You’re also less likely to slip through the cracks of the health-care system. “Let’s say your doctor says you need a breast biopsy, but he also tells you that you have diabetes and heart disease,” says Harold P. Freeman, M.D., president and founder of the Ralph Lauren

Center for Care and Prevention and senior adviser to the director of the National Cancer Institute. “Before your biopsy, you’ll likely see a heart disease specialist to get medical clearance. That step back, however, is how people often get lost or stuck in the system.” That’s why it’s crucial to have someone with a sense of urgency to help push you forward through the system. If you don’t have someone to help you, ask your physician if her hospital has a patient navigation program and can offer an advocate to help.