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Lung Cancer: Why See a Specialist?


Allie Lemco Toren

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Lung cancer is a complex type of cancer that affects everyone differently. That’s why all lung cancer patients should follow unique treatment plans tailored to their specific needs. But your primary care doctor will not have all the information you need to treat your lung cancer successfully, and a general oncologist may not have enough experience treating your specific type of cancer. That’s where specialists come in: a lung cancer specialist, also known as a thoracic oncologist, has the right skills and insight to help you stay in control of your lung cancer. Here’s why:

1. A lung cancer specialist completes extensive training in lung cancer and is an expert in lung cancer treatment.

A lung cancer specialist is a physician who specializes in treating cancers that affect the lungs. Lung cancer specialists need a deep understanding of the nuances of this type of cancer, so they must train extensively to master this area of study. A lung cancer specialist will have expertise in treating cancer in general, with a focus on lung cancer.

All doctors complete a training program called a residency after they finish medical school. But lung cancer specialists receive considerable training beyond that. They spend several additional years in an oncology fellowship, during which they will specialize in thoracic oncology, training under experienced lung cancer specialists and focusing on patients with lung cancer. At the end of this period, specialists are qualified to take an exam to become a board-certified medical oncologist. Look for a doctor who is board certified in medical oncology with a focus on thoracic oncology, and you’ll know you’re seeing an expert. 

2. A lung cancer specialist never stops learning about lung cancer.

To maintain their board certifications, lung cancer specialists must keep up with new developments in their field. They must complete continuing education and renew their licenses every few years, depending on the state in which they practice and other factors. By following these requirements, board-certified lung cancer specialists stay on top of new treatments and discoveries about the mechanisms involved in lung cancer, so they can then provide their patients with insightful, informed, and up-to-date treatment plans. This is especially important for lung cancer patients, because new treatment options, like immunotherapies, have emerged in recent years that treat the cancer more effectively and efficiently.

3. A lung cancer specialist has extensive experience in treating lung cancer.

Lung cancer specialists see a higher volume and concentration of patients with lung cancer, and thus are more experienced in treating the condition successfully. Because they see lots of patients with lung cancer, they can add real-world knowledge of the disease to their academic and clinical training. They’re able to assess how well patients respond to certain treatments, have a deeper understanding of how lung cancer progresses over time, share insight about effectively implementing lifestyle changes, and recognize symptoms that a general practitioner may miss, among other skills.

4. A lung cancer specialist is a team player.

Lung cancer specialists work with teams of other health care providers who treat patients with lung cancer and can connect patients with radiation oncologists, surgical oncologists, oncology nurses, oncology social workers, pain management specialists, and other experts in lung cancer management. Working with a team can help patients address all aspects of the disease and ensure success.

5. It’s easy to find the right lung cancer specialist for you.

There are thousands of lung cancer specialists in the United States, so how do you know which is the right doctor for you? By searching on, you can identify the best lung cancer specialist to help you manage your lung cancer successfully.

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Dec 5, 2016

© 2016 Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the Healthgrades User Agreement.

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