Finding the Right Doctor

The first step toward taking care of your melanoma is choosing a doctor in which you feel a high level of confidence. You might be fortunate to find a dermatologist, oncologist or family physician in your community who is knowledgeable about melanoma. It is worth the trouble to travel a certain distance if you need to find the right doctor. Even if you have a low-risk melanoma, and certainly if you are at high risk for recurrence, you should seek out a specialist who is well versed in the field.

At the same time, make sure that both the specified pathological characteristics of the melanoma and the diagnosis are correct. You don’t want to risk getting inappropriate or inadequate treatment. A physician who deals with melanoma on a regular basis will probably be better informed about treatments and more relaxed in talking to you about the disease. Melanoma specialists are frequently able to link up with a qualified network of surgeons, pathologists, oncologists, and mental health professionals and thus provide you with more comprehensive care. It might be a good idea to go for your initial evaluation and surgery at a specialized clinic and then have your follow-up check-ups locally. Needless to say, your doctor’s professional expertise will be critical.

The practitioner’s personality may also matter to you, although it does not necessarily give an indication of medical proficiency. You will probably be able to gauge the doctor’s willingness to give you a say in your own treatment, to treat you like a respected colleague as you work together. Where do you find a doctor who will cooperate with you in this way? A teaching hospital will usually have a good melanoma team. A hospital that has been designated a Comprehensive Cancer Center by the National Cancer Institute offers additional advantages, because it has demonstrated that it has a strong research program that supports its clinical practice. In looking for a doctor, call ahead and talk with the nursing staff. You can often get a feel from the initial contact for how the clinic or practice operates.

Nurses are also an excellent resource—they may be able to recommend a good doctor, and their knowledge is not only based on medical expertise but from being a co-worker with the physician.

Call or email us if you need help finding a melanoma specialist. Also, look under the TAB Cancer Centers for a listing of NCI approved facilities.

Source: Poole, Catherine, Guerry, DuPont, M.D., Melanoma Prevention Detection and Treatment, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005.