So you or a loved one is diagnosed with a serious health problem. You go to the doctor, perhaps a specialist. They are supposed to know all about the latest treatments, right? Well, yes, that’s right most of the time.
But a new study shows that with some cancers, patients are not always offered what the experts agree is the best, research evidence-based medical approach In other words, there are some doctors who won’t offer you what the national standards now say is best for someone in your situation.

According to a recent report on MedPageToday.com:

[T]here’s still plenty of room for improvement in the overall level of cancer care, reported a team of researchers in the Feb. 1 issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology. The Harvard-Rand study evaluated the care of nearly 1,800 cancer patients in Atlanta, Cleveland, Houston, Kansas City and Los Angeles.

“Viewed from the perspective of the patient with breast or colorectal cancer, a person with a new diagnosis of cancer has approximately a one in five chance of failing to receive elements of cancer care consistent with the best evidence in the literature and expert-defined standards of clinical practice,” the study concluded.

A one in five chance of not getting state-of-the-art treatment is disconcerting, of course, and just one more reason why you have to get smart as a patient. You have to ask pointed, intelligent questions. And if there’s a lot on the line, you should get an independent second opinion (which would lower your risk to 1 in 10). This applies to cancer treatment, where your first shot is usually your best shot. But it could apply to areas like surgery, for example. Is back surgery really a good idea, or do surgeons in your area operate way more often than the national standard?

Certainly, there is a lot of baloney on the Internet - not here, for sure! But online, you can usually find support groups of patients who share your concern. Those folks can help you know what questions to ask - so can the nonprofit advocacy group that covers your illness. In my case, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and their hotline and local patient services coordinator have been a great help. Draw on resources like LLS. There are terrific advocacy groups for almost any condition, and they often have very up-to-date information.

Otherwise, you could miss out on options that the leading docs agree could benefit - just because your local physician never mentioned it.

I like to say that knowledge can be the best medicine of all.

–Andrew