Top doctors: 5 tips on oncology appointments

Oncologist Dr. Bhoomi Mehrotra at Long Island Jewish Oncologist Dr. Bhoomi Mehrotra at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park. (July 10, 2012) Photo Credit: Anthony Lanzilote

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If you've been referred to a cancer specialist, you're probably about to face some big decisions.

Here's what you should know about your first meeting with an oncologist:

1. TAKE YOUR MEDICAL RECORDS WITH YOU

Your official records should be sent directly from your doctor to your oncologist, but they don't always get there before you do, said Dr. Lora Weiselberg, chief of the Breast Cancer Service in the Don Monti Division of Medical Oncology at North Shore University Hospital and LIJ Medical Center and an associate professor of medicine at New York University School of Medicine. Because of this, she said, it's a good idea to get copies of your medical records from your doctors and hand-carry them to your first appointment.

"At a minimum, this includes all your pathology reports -- including previous biopsy reports, even if they were benign -- and radiology reports," Weiselberg said. "Many oncologists also want the actual X-ray films or discs of them, the pathology slides, genetic testing reports and notes about operations," she added. "The more information that is available at the time of the consultation," she noted, "the more complete a picture your oncologist will have and the more specific the recommendations will be."

Also take lists of all previous surgeries with dates, all medical conditions and how long you've had them, and all medications and supplements you're taking, Weiselberg suggested. "Just because something is touted as being 'natural' does not mean that it is not relevant," she said, explaining why a list of supplements can be crucial. "Some of those things may interact with your treatment or actually be harmful."

2. IT'S SMART TO TAKE A FRIEND ALONG

It's entirely normal to be overwhelmed after a cancer diagnosis, and many patients find it a challenge to understand all the relevant details. That's why oncologists recommend you don't come alone to the appointment.

"It is an excellent idea to bring someone with you for the first visit," said Dr. Bhoomi Mehrotra, director of the Joel Finkelstein In-Patient Oncology Unit and Adult Bone Marrow Transplant Unit at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park. "The accompanying individual doesn't have to be a relative. He or she could be a close friend, a neighbor, someone that the individual trusts." This person can help by taking notes, assisting with appointment scheduling and asking questions, Mehrotra said.

3. DECIDE IN ADVANCE WHAT YOU WANT TO KNOW

Do you want to know your prognosis? Some people don't, said Dr. Eva Chalas, director of Clinical Cancer Services and chief of the Division of Gynecologic Oncology at Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola. Some people "just assume that they're going to be cured," she said; whereas, others "don't want to talk about it because they know they would feel defeated if they knew what the prognosis was."

Chalas said she finds it helpful "if I tell them what they need to know -- the basics, here are some of the options, here are the side effects -- and then wait for the patients to ask questions."

4. DEFINITELY ASK QUESTIONS

Just what you should ask depends on the type of cancer and your personal situation. For instance, "if you would like to have children in the future, ask about the likelihood of treatment causing infertility," Weiselberg said. "If infertility is a possible effect of the treatment, ask about a referral to a specialist for fertility preservation. Although there are no guarantees, there are some steps that can increase the chance of future childbearing for both men and women with cancer."

Generally, though, cancer patients should ask:

* What's the goal of the treatment -- to cure you or help reduce pain and keep you comfortable?

* What are the side effects of treatments? How likely are they to occur?

* Are there alternatives to the recommended treatment? And why did the oncologist choose the specific plan?

* Are there any clinical trials that might be appropriate?

5. DON'T EXPECT TO LEARN, OR REMEMBER, EVERYTHING AT THE FIRST APPOINTMENT

Learning about your cancer and possible treatments is an ongoing process that can take months or years, Chalas said. "People shouldn't expect to get everything, every nuance and bit of information, in the first meeting," she said. "You might absorb 20 percent, but you'll get the gist of what's going to happen."

Keep in mind that you'll learn more as you undergo treatment and talk to nurses, she said. "A lot of the day-to-day stuff -- the logistics of the treatment and what to eat and protecting yourself from the sun -- are addressed continuously," she said. "You ought to expect your oncologist to work with an experienced team of people who will usher you through this process."

 

ONCOLOGISTS

MEDICAL ONCOLOGISTS

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Dr. Birjis G. Akhund,

180 E. Pulaski Rd.,

Huntington Station.; 631-425-2280

Dr. Francis P. Arena,

1999 Marcus Ave., Suite 120,

Lake Success; 516-466-6611

Dr. Thomas P. Bradley,

Monter Cancer Center,

450 Lakeville Rd.,

Lake Success; 516-734-8900

Dr. Daniel Budman,

Monter Cancer Center,

450 Lakeville Rd.,

Lake Success; 516-734-8900

Dr. Rocco Caruso,

2500 Nesconset Hwy. 26B Bldg.,

Stony Brook; 631-751-8305

Dr. Marc L. Citron,

Pro Healthcare Associates,

Oncology Division,

2800 Marcus Ave., Suite 205,

Lake Success; 516-622-6150

Dr. John J. Fiore,

Memorial Sloan Kettering

at Suffolk,

650 Commack Rd.,

Commack; 631-623-4100

Dr. Alexander A. Hindenburg,

Winthrop Oncology/

Hematology Associates,

200 Old Country Rd., Suite 450,

Mineola; 516-663-9500

Dr. Bruce I. Kappel,

40 Crossways Park Dr., Suite 103,

Woodbury; 516-921-5533

Dr. Leonard Kessler,

242 Merrick Rd.,

Suite 301,

Rockville Centre; 516-536-1455

Dr. Andrzej P. Kudelka,

3 Edmund D. Pellegrino Rd.,

Stony Brook; 631-638-1000

Dr. John S. Marino,

2001 Marcus Ave.,

Suite S265,

Lake Success; 516-883-0122

Dr. Bhoomi Mehrotra,

Long Island Jewish Medical Center,

270-05 76th Ave.,

New Hyde Park; 718-470-8934

Dr. Stanley Ostrow,

235 N. Belle Mead Rd.,

East Setauket; 631-751-5151

Dr. Hasan A. Rizvi,

180 E. Main St.,

Bay Shore; 631-666-0262

Dr. Paula R. Schwartz,

3003 New Hyde Park Rd., Suite 401,

New Hyde Park; 516-354-5700

Dr. Barry Strauss,

353 Meeting House Lane,

Southampton; 631-283-6611

Dr. Frank A. Tomao,

2001 Marcus Ave.,

Suite S265,

Lake Success; 516-883-0122

Dr. Vincent P. Vinciguerra,

Monter Cancer Center,

450 Lakeville Rd.,

Lake Success; 516-734-8954

Dr. Jen Chin Wang,

5 E. Walnut St.,

Long Beach; 516-889-7447

Dr. Lora Weiselberg,

Monter Cancer Center,

450 Lakeville Rd.,

Lake Success; 516-734-8963

Dr. Rita Weiss,

107 Northern Blvd.,

Suite 306,

Great Neck; 516-482-0080

GYNECOLOGIC ONCOLOGISTS

@Newsday

Dr. Eva Chalas,

200 Old Country Rd., Suite 365,

Mineola; 516-294-5440

Dr. John L. Lovecchio,

North Shore University Hospital,

Division of Gynecologic Oncology,

300 Community Dr., 10 Monti,

Manhasset; 516-562-4438

Dr. Andrew Menzin,

North Shore University Hospital,

Division of Gynecologic Oncology,

300 Community Dr., 10 Monti,

Manhasset; 516-562-4438

Dr. Michael L. Pearl,

3 Edmund D. Pellegrino Rd.,

Stony Brook; 631-444-2989

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