What to Expect From Your Hospital


Cure or long-term control of cancer is a realistic possibility for many patients today. To give yourself every opportunity for cure or control of your illness, you will want to take advantage of all of the advances made in cancer treatment. State-of-the-art care means that your hospital has kept up with the latest information and technology and its staff is aware of the latest advances in cancer research. This does not necessarily mean that the hospital has the newest buildings or the highest-priced equipment. It does mean that the hospital has complete knowledge of all the services that are available to you and can provide access to the best technology available. For example, if you need a CT scan (computerized x-ray), and your hospital does not have this newer type of equipment, it can refer you to a hospital which does.

State-of-the-art care also includes a particular attitude about cancer care. The most important attitude is hope. About one-half of all newly diagnosed patients will be cured! Years ago, most people felt completely hopeless about cancer, and the general attitude was that cancer meant an automatic death sentence. Cancer today is a chronic illness, not necessarily a fatal one. It is important that the hospital staff has an attitude of optimism, hope, and confidence in its ability to help you get on with your life.

Your hospital should meet several basic standards. It should be accredited by the JCAHO (Joint Commission for the Accreditation of Health Care Organizations), with full accreditations by the American College of Surgeons, and licensure by the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Your hospital should also have or participate in a Tumor Registry. This is important because it means the hospital collects confidential information about cancer that will be used in research to learn more about the disease and its treatments.


Hospitals that treat people with cancer are expected to have certain basic resources or, at least, have access to them. The basic treatments are surgery, chemotherapy (treatment with chemicals), and radiation therapy. Naturally, the hospital must have specialists in each of these areas. These doctors are often board-certified or board-eligible in surgical oncology, medical oncology (chemotherapy), or radiation oncology (radiation therapy). A small community hospital may not have a radiation therapy unit of its own but can refer you to one, if necessary.

Cancer treatment requires a "multidisciplinary" approach. This means that more than one doctor will be involved in treatment decisions. For instance, a medical oncologist, surgical oncologist, radiation oncologist, and pathologist should review your medical history and tests and recommend what they consider to be your best treatment choice. They will then share this recommendation with your doctor, who should talk it over with you and your loved ones (if you choose) and help you decide on the best treatment. If you are uncertain, you can always ask for a second opinion.

If your cancer should metastasize (spread to another part of your body) while you are on standard treatment, your doctor may make a recommendation about another form of treatment. You may also want to consider a second opinion. You should always feel free to ask for a consultation with another expert in the field. Your own doctor can suggest whom to see for another opinion and how to arrange it.

Experimental or research treatments are those being tested to see whether or not they can control cancer better than the standard treatments. For most cancers, especially those in the early stages, standard treatments are used. If your cancer has recurred after your first treatment, you may want to consider an experimental treatment. (See INVESTIGATIONAL TREATMENTS) The point is that if your hospital and its staff does not participate in experimental treatments, you should be referred to such a place, if that is your wish.


Supportive hospital services can enhance and supplement your medical care. Examples are nursing services, social services, nutritional and rehabilitation services, and spiritual services. Cancer is a complex disease, and it is rare that patients need only the services of their doctors. While medical care is your most important concern, support services can help with other problems you or your family may face. One purpose of this guide is to describe all the support services available to you and tell you where you can find these services. Your hospital will help you get the support services you need to ensure that your life can be as normal as possible. If it does not, ask your doctor to refer you to community agencies that will meet your needs.


Cancer-care services are confidential, meaning that only you and those health-care professionals who you are working with directly know about your condition. Your medical records are also private and confidential. You will be asked to sign a release-of-information form if your medical records are to be shared with any other person or agency.


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