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Choosing a Blood Cancer Specialist

Hematologists specialize in internal medicine with a subspecialty in hematology, the study of diseases of the blood. A “hematologist-oncologist” is a doctor who specializes in treating people with blood cancers. Pediatric hematologist-oncologists treat infants, children, and adolescents with blood cancers. Blood cancers are uncommon diseases, so it can be to your advantage to be treated by a doctor specially trained to focus on treating patients with blood cancers. For this reason, many people with blood cancer choose a hematologist-oncologist to manage their treatment. If your doctor is not a blood cancer specialist, your treating doctor can work in consultation with a hematologist-oncologist.

How to Find a Blood Cancer Specialist

There are a number of ways to find a specialist, including:

  • Asking your primary care doctor for a recommendation
  • Contacting your community cancer center
  • Reaching out to doctor and/or insurance referral services
  • Calling an Information Specialist at LLS at (800) 955-4572
  • Using online doctor-finder resources, such as
    • The American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS), which offers a service to help patients find board-certified specialists
    • Find a Hematologist, a service provided by the American Society of Hematology (ASH), which helps match patients with hematologists in their area
    • Find an Oncologist, a service offered by Cancer.Net, the American Society of Clinical Oncology's patient information website which helps match patients with doctors and healthcare professionals who participate in approved oncology programs
    • DocFinder, a service provided by Administrators in Medicine, which provides doctor licensing and disciplinary information

Depending on the patient’s location, their knowledge of nearby facilities or perhaps even personal preference, some choose a treatment center first, while others begin by choosing a doctor to manage their treatment. Some individuals may have the option to travel to another city or state for treatment, while others do not. In other cases, familiarity with a local treatment center may be important. Whatever your situation, understanding which questions to ask, the issues to consider and the resources that are available will help you make informed choices.

For most people, insurance coverage is another important consideration in choosing a specialist or treatment center. Some insurance plans require a referral from your primary care doctor for a consultation with any type of specialist. They may also require that you choose from the plan’s in-network list of specialists and affiliated treatment centers. Check your insurance policy or speak to your insurance representative to understand the coverage provided by your plan. Make sure that you know whether your plan will cover getting a second or third opinion.

Questions to Help You Choose a Specialist

Once you've identified a potential blood cancer specialist(s), make an appointment for a consultation. When you meet with the doctor, take notes or record the meeting (ask the specialist if he or she minds) if you find it helpful. Or bring a family member or friend along to participate in the discussion, take notes and provide support.

Arrive at your appointment prepared with questions, such as:

  • Are you board-certified and licensed?
  • Are you a member of any professional societies?
  • How much experience do you have treating patients with my disease?
  • Is your hospital, university, center or clinic accredited and experienced in treating blood cancers?
  • How long should I expect to wait for appointments or return of my phone calls?
  • Will nurses, social workers and case managers be available to help me with support and quality of life concerns?
  • Would you recommend that I speak with any other hematology-oncologists?
  • When should I call you? What questions should I call my family doctor for?
  • What is the best way to contact you?
  • How do I contact you at night? On weekends? On holidays?

Click here to download lists of suggested questions to ask your healthcare providers.

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