Choosing a Cancer Center or Hospital

When you or another family member has cancer, you want to get the best possible medical care and treatment. Choosing a cancer center or hospital can be one of the most important decisions you’ll make. There are many excellent cancer care centers in the United States, but how do you know where to look?

Here are some things to think about as you choose where you want to get treated.

Ask for recommendations

The doctor who found your cancer is the first person you should ask. Try asking: “If you or someone you loved had this cancer, where would you go for treatment?” Often, the doctor will suggest a cancer center even if you don’t ask.

If your doctor isn’t sure of your diagnosis, but thinks there’s a chance you might have cancer, you can ask: “If you were in my place, where would you go first?” Ask for at least 2 or 3 suggestions and find out if you need a cancer center that specializes in a certain type of cancer. Then find out if these cancer centers accept your health insurance plan.

Finding a cancer center or hospital

You might find these websites helpful in locating information about cancer centers near you.*

  • The Association of Community Cancer Centers (ACCC) offers a state by state list of cancer programs that belong to their organization. You can find profiles for each cancer center including basic information such as contact info, treatments offered, and special cancer services. 
  • The National Cancer Institute (NCI) is part of the US National Institutes for Health. The NCI works with nearly 70 cancer centers in the United States through its National Cancer Institute Cancer Center Programs. These cancer centers are recognized for their leadership in cancer research and cutting edge treatments. 
  • The Association of American Cancer Institutes (AACI) provides a state by state directory of member institutions in their member directory.  Their membership includes academic and freestanding cancer centers across the US and Canada.
  • The Children’s Oncology Group (COG) offers a listing of cancer centers that have experts who treat children and teenagers with cancer.  Most children and teens with cancer are treated at large pediatric cancer centers. Pediatric cancer treatment is usually offered to children from birth to age 18 or 19, although some groups extend pediatric treatment to age 21.
  • The American College of Surgeons offers a list of breast centers accredited through their National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers. To be accredited, centers must meet standards for providing services, participating in clinical trials, continuing physician education, and community outreach.

* Inclusion of a facility or a health care professional in any of these databases does not imply endorsement by the American Cancer Society.

Choosing a cancer center

Be sure to find out how much experience a center has in treating your type of cancer. It's important to know the cancer center can provide all the services you need. For example, larger hospitals may have more experience with different kinds of cancers and offer more services for people with cancer. This is extra important if you have a type of cancer that is rare or more challenging to treat.

Our How to Choose a Cancer Center or Hospital worksheet can help you figure out what questions to ask and keep track of the information you find. For instance, you might want to ask:

  • What type of treatment facilities they have
  • Who is part of the cancer care team
  • Whether they have tumor boards where experts in different types of cancer care meet to discuss the best way to care for a person with cancer
  • You can also ask your doctor and other health care providers about their experience with the cancer centers you are looking into.

If you live in a small town, you may need to travel to a larger city to find a center the best meets your needs. ​This may be the key to getting the best possible treatment and might be worth the extra travel or inconvenience to you. Larger cancer centers or hospitals are also be more likely to have clinical trials (research studies) you might be able to take part in.

In addition, you many want to see whether the healthcare organizations you are looking at are accredited using specific quality standards.

  • The Joint Commission accredits and certifies healthcare organizations based on a variety of quality measures. Accreditation by The Joint Commission does not necessarily mean the organization has expertise in cancer care, but is a measure of overall quality of services. To check a healthcare facility, you can go to their Quality Check website. If you don’t have Internet access, you can call The Joint Commission customer service line at 630-792-5800.
  • The Commission on Cancer (CoC) is the cancer quality program of the American College of Surgeons (ACoS). The COC accredits organizations that are committed to quality cancer care. To be accredited by the CoC, a cancer care organization must meet certain standards and offer a range of state-of-the-art cancer services. No matter its size or location, a cancer center's ability to deliver quality cancer care is monitored by the CoC. CoC-approved cancer programs are found in many different kinds of hospitals or facilities. They may be freestanding or in major medical centers, community hospitals, or other diagnostic and treatment centers. You can search for an accredited cancer center near you on the CoC website.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

American College of Surgeons. Commission on Cancer: Improving Outcomes for Patients with Cancer. facs.org. Accessed at https://www.facs.org/quality-programs/cancer/coc on September 15, 2021.

American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). Choosing a Cancer Treatment Center. Cancer.net. Accessed at
https://www.cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/managing-your-care/choosing-cancer-treatment-center
on July 29, 2021.

National Cancer Institute. Finding Health Care Services. Cancer.gov. Accessed at https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/managing-care/services on August 3, 2021.

The Joint Commission. About Quality Check®. Accessed at https://www.qualitycheck.org/ on September 15, 2021. 

 

References

American College of Surgeons. Commission on Cancer: Improving Outcomes for Patients with Cancer. facs.org. Accessed at https://www.facs.org/quality-programs/cancer/coc on September 15, 2021.

American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). Choosing a Cancer Treatment Center. Cancer.net. Accessed at
https://www.cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/managing-your-care/choosing-cancer-treatment-center
on July 29, 2021.

National Cancer Institute. Finding Health Care Services. Cancer.gov. Accessed at https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/managing-care/services on August 3, 2021.

The Joint Commission. About Quality Check®. Accessed at https://www.qualitycheck.org/ on September 15, 2021. 

 

Last Revised: September 17, 2021

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