What to Expect When You're Referred to an Oncologist

In general terms, you may be referred to an oncologist if you talk to your primary care doctor about a change in your body and they recommend that you have some preliminary tests. These tests may indicate that you have cancer, or your doctor may suspect that you have the disease. Your primary care doctor can perform tests to determine if you might have cancer. If there are any signs of cancer, your doctor may recommend visiting an oncologist as soon as possible.

This may be for further testing and treatment. You should expect to work with a group of healthcare providers while you receive treatment. The first thing to keep in mind is that a referral to an oncologist does not mean that you have a definitive diagnosis of cancer or any other disease. Some people are simply prone to developing benign lumps or growths, and lymph nodes can swell for many reasons.

Also, if it's any form of cancer, keep in mind that many forms of cancer are very treatable, especially when discovered early and treated by a highly trained oncologist. Quoting this generic data when sending the patient for a diagnostic or referral procedure is different from making specific predictions about the mass of that particular patient. If you or a loved one has received a referral to an oncologist, or if you are considering requesting a referral to check for a suspicious symptom, it is important to learn as much as possible about the oncology specialization. Once the word cancer is mentioned, fear takes hold and the patient can become relentless in asking questions that the referring doctor simply cannot answer.

If you want to learn more about the oncologist your doctor referred you to; if you are concerned about whether your oncologist is qualified to help you, or simply want to seek a second opinion, learn more about how to research specialist doctors to seek the best possible level of care. While it is appropriate for the referring physician to avoid an unpleasant conversation about cancer, this is never the case with the oncologist to whom the patient has been referred. Understandably, you'll have a lot of questions after learning that you're going to be referred to an oncologist. If you have a confirmed cancer diagnosis, you will be referred to an oncologist who will review your case individually, explain all your treatment options and recommend you.

In an effort to avoid this trap, the referring physician's intentional vagueness is understandable; on the contrary, this gives the oncologist the freedom to elaborate a more positive, fact-based discussion. The doctor's concern alone increases the patient's anxiety level, and it's generally wise for referring physicians not to speculate on the likelihood or other specific details. Because most offices aren't equipped to diagnose a tumor as cancerous, you may be referred to an oncologist. Your primary care doctor will likely refer you to an oncologist who is part of their network and who will work with your primary care center to keep you informed about your overall health care process. Your family doctor or family doctor can refer you to an oncologist if they want the opinion of an expert in a specific field or cannot determine a cancer diagnosis. It is important for those who have been referred to an oncologist or are considering requesting a referral for suspicious symptoms to understand as much as possible about this medical specialty.

While it is understandable for referring physicians not to discuss cancer in detail with their patients, it is never appropriate for an oncologist not to provide detailed information about their diagnosis and treatment options. Physician's offices are generally not equipped to diagnose a cancerous tumor, so you'll be referred to an oncologist for further testing. In situations where there is suspicion but no evidence of cancer, the referring doctor may have told the patient: “You have a problem” or “You have a tumor” but often the realistic possibility remains unclear or even denied by the patient.

Shauna Crapp
Shauna Crapp

Sushi buff. Lifelong bacon advocate. Extreme food lover. General web fan. Wannabe coffee lover.

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