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How To Choose A Surgeon For Colorectal Cancer


Ask all your questions and about your concerns. Do not feel guilty if your needs are not the same as those of your friend or neighbor. The key to choosing a doctor is what works best for you -- just as it is a personal decision what treatment(s) to undergo.

The following questions are a good starting point. Ask about whatever else is of concern to you.

  • Are you a board certified colorectal surgeon? If not, are you a board certified general surgeon? Board certification indicates that the person has had extensive training and passed national testing and meets ethical standards.
  • What training have you had? Where?
  • How many of these operations do you do in a year? How many have you done in a lifetime? As a general matter, studies show that the more experience the person has had with your particular situation, the more likely a positive outcome.
  • How many of these operations are performed at your hospital? The more operations, the more likely that the hospital will be able to handle any emergency that may come up.
  • What percentage of your patients have clean margins? A margin is a distance around the tumor. The amount of preferred distance is based on the blood supply. Anywhere from 2 -- 5 cm of normal tissue is the usual to make sure that all cancer was removed. If cancer returns in the colon it is usually where the bowel was reconnected because the margins were not clean. (You can find your own margins in the pathology report.
  • In patients like me that you have operated on, at one or two years after the surgery:
    • What percentage experience incontinence such as having to wear a pad? (We use the words "wear a pad" instead of "experience incontinence" to avoid misunderstanding because there are different definitions of incontinence.)
    • How is data collected about how well your patients do? If the doctor only gets data when patients let him or her know, look for someone who can produce statistics. If you don't like the results, look elsewhere.
  • Is it more important to you to get out all the cancer or make every effort to minimize side effects or both? The ideal surgeon would state: "both". There are no second chances here. This is a one-shot operation.

Also consider other aspects you may want in a doctor. For instance:

  • Does the doctor tell you what you want to know -- or what he or she wants you to know?
  • Is the doctor agreeable to the decision maker being the person you choose -- whether it is the doctor, you, or someone else?
  • The doctor's bedside manner. Some people want a doctor with a friendly bedside manner. Others don't care about a surgeon's bedside manner -- only whether he or the she is the best to do the surgery.

Ask about the surgery. For a list of questions to ask about surgery for colorectal cancer, click here.

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