Choosing a Lung Cancer Treatment Center

Choosing a lung cancer treatment center is one of the biggest decisions you'll face during what is an overwhelming and difficult time—and this applies whether you are newly diagnosed with lung cancer or looking for a second opinion.

You might be lucky enough to have a top-ranked cancer hospital within minutes of your home. But more than likely, you will need to investigate the best lung cancer treatment centers in your area and determine whether they suit your needs or if you should travel to a far-off facility for more specialized care.

To help you determine which of your options would be the best, you need to understand factors that impact your prognosis and know what questions to ask of the centers you are considering. Gathering essential facts will make it easier to navigate the process and get started with treatment for your lung cancer as soon as possible.

Why Your Choice Matters

The treatment of lung cancer is changing rapidly, and it's important to find medical experts who can offer you the most up-to-date options for your disease.

Researchers have compared how different types of cancer centers affect outcomes for people with stage 4 lung cancer. Those who sought out care at academic centers had significantly greater survival rates than those who were treated at community-based cancer centers. The difference in outcomes was greatest for those with lung adenocarcinoma.

There are many potential explanations for these differences, but it's assumed that these facilities house specialists who are familiar with the latest approaches and information on clinical trials. Thus, some experts suggest that patients with lung cancer diagnoses seek help at institutions that are part of the National Comprehensive Care Network (NCCN), an alliance of the 30 leading cancer treatment facilities.

Factors to Consider

There are several factors to consider as you narrow down your options for a cancer treatment center. It may be tempting to want to jump in and begin treatment as quickly as you can. But slowing down and considering important factors related to treatment will ensure that you make the best decision for your goals and needs.

When you sit down to evaluate where to seek help, consider the facility's record of quality care, its ability to cover all your needs, the staff's experience, if they offer the treatment options you want, whether the location is convenient or at least manageable for you, and what type of insurance coverage they take.

Quality of Care

Choosing a facility that has a record for providing high-quality care should be your number one priority. Thankfully, a few databases are available to help you research this.

Two of the most helpful resources include:

  • American College of Surgeons (ACS): The ACS has put together a list that includes more than 1,500 cancer centers accredited by the organization's Commission on Cancer (Coc). To be included, these centers have to comply with certain standards and must be dedicated to providing the best in cancer diagnosis and treatment. About 70% of patients who are newly diagnosed seek care at one of these centers.
  • The National Cancer Institute (NCI): The NCI has a list of roughly 70 designated centers. Several requirements are needed for a cancer center to make the list, one of which is that the center is actively taking part in research to decrease the death rates from cancer.

Comprehensiveness of Care

Lung cancer treatment is complex. You will need to see several specialists who attend to different aspects of the disease or conditions related to your lung cancer.

This team may include:

  • Oncologist: A physician who specializes in treating cancer
  • Thoracic surgeon: A surgeon who performs lung cancer surgery
  • Radiation oncologist: A cancer doctor who specializes in radiation treatment
  • Pulmonologist: A lung specialist
  • Palliative care specialists: Physicians who specialize in treating the physical and emotional symptoms caused by cancer

In addition, your team may include physical therapists, respiratory therapists, and other physicians, depending on what other issues you're experiencing.

These doctors need to be able to communicate and work together. One advantage of seeking care at one of the larger cancer treatment facilities is that they can offer access to all of these specialists in one place.

A comprehensive cancer center may make the paperwork and communication aspect of care more efficient. It can also reduce your travel times and, in general, remove some of the burden of organizing care.

Patient Volume

While there is much to say about small facilities that offer a very personalized approach to care, big cancer centers that specialize in treating large numbers of cancer patients have their own benefits.

One advantage is that they often have access to the latest and greatest in technology. For instance, technology such as cutting edge imaging and radiation therapy resources is expensive; only a center that would be using these machines often would invest in the newest equipment.

When you have a large number of patients, you get a lot of experience. So doctors in these larger cancer centers are more likely to be familiar with your specific type of cancer, even if it's not the most common manifestation of the disease.

Also, studies suggest that people who have lung cancer surgery at high-volume hospitals suffer fewer complications and fare better overall compared to patients at facilities where doctors see fewer lung cancer patients.

A less recognized advantage of high-volume centers is the strong likelihood that support groups for lung cancer patients might be active in the facility. Being treated in a center like this helps you connect with others who can support your needs and answer your questions.

Treatment Options Offered

The particular lung cancer treatments you're interested in trying may not be available at every type of cancer center. For example:

Even among larger cancer centers that now offer a wider range of therapies, some centers are more focused on integrative treatments than others.

Location

For some people, receiving care near their home or family is very important; others may be more willing and/or able to travel for treatment.

If you choose to travel, ask about housing when you make your appointment. Some cancer centers have hospitality houses nearby that provide lodging free of charge during cancer treatment. The center may also be able to offer discounts on local hotels.

Traveling for treatment, whether by car or plane, can be expensive. Keep in mind that transportation and lodging for medical reasons are deductible medical expenses.

Insurance Constraints

It’s important to check with your insurance company to see if they cover treatment at the cancer centers you are considering. It’s also important to ask if the center is in-network or out-of-network.

Out-of-network providers and centers are often covered, but with higher co-pays or deductibles. Choosing a cancer center under your insurance plan will help considerably with the costs.

If a treatment is not covered under your insurance plan, you can still have it—you'll just be required to pay for it out-of-pocket. This is true for many of the integrative treatments for cancer such as massage therapy and acupuncture.

Questions to Ask

That's a lot to keep in mind, and it's easy to get off-track when meeting with cancer center staff members who are sure to provide you with a lot of information in one sitting.

It may help to keep these and any other questions you have handy during your discussion.

For a meeting to discuss a diagnosis or treatment recommendations:

  • What treatments do you recommend for my particular cancer?
  • What is the survival rate for the recommended treatment?
  • What side effects or complications should I be aware of?
  • What are the reasons for your recommendations?

For a meeting to discuss receiving treatment at the new doctor's facility:

  • Who will coordinate my care with all the specialists I see? Will I have a case manager?
  • How difficult is it to get an appointment?
  • Who would I contact on evenings or weekends when I have questions?
  • If I need to be hospitalized, where would I be admitted?
  • Can I receive all of my care at your facility, or would I need to travel to different locations (for chemotherapy, radiation therapy, etc.)?
  • Can I talk to any of your patients about their experience being treated?

Then, after the meeting, evaluate how things went:

  • Did the healthcare team offer me respect? Did they listen carefully?
  • Were my questions answered? Were their answers clear or filled with medical jargon?
  • What is my “gut” telling me about the center? Would my loved ones feel comfortable there?

Getting a Second Opinion

Some people are hesitant to ask for a second opinion. They may be afraid they'll offend their physician or to take the time needed to investigate another opinion.

It’s important to keep in mind that getting a second opinion when you have cancer is not uncommon; in fact, it’s almost expected. Just as you would check out more than one dealership when purchasing a new car, checking out more than one doctor or treatment center is very important to feeling secure in your decision making.

It's helpful to ask the same questions of any care team you meet with, so you have clear points of comparison. On the one hand, you may find an approach that better meets your needs. On the other, if the opinions are similar, you'll feel more comfortable that you're on the right track.

It does take some time to arrange a second opinion. Sometimes urgent treatment is needed and you may have to make decisions quickly, which may not allow for such consultation. But more often than not, there's a window of time to seek out other opinions before starting treatment.

When You Can't Visit in Person

If you want a second opinion from one of the top lung cancer treatment centers in the U.S. or a highly recommended hospital, you may be able to arrange a remote consultation. Inquire with the staff about this option before crossing a facility off your list due to its location.

Treatment Centers to Start Your Search

Visit the websites of cancer treatment centers and get information about the services offered. You can always call and ask any questions you have as well.

There are many centers that may suit your needs. Here are links to just some of the more recognizable facilities to get you started in your search:

A Word From Verywell

As you make decisions about your treatment choices, it’s important to remember that you are in charge of your own care. Physicians will offer you many options, but it's ultimately up to you to make the decisions.

Some people will want to be as aggressive as possible with their options, while others will not. Most people will want at least one additional opinion before they make their choice about care. Learning ​how to be your own advocate may also help you improve the quality of your care and your outcomes.

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Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Ramalingam S, Dinan MA, Crawford J. Survival Comparison in Patients with Stage IV Lung Cancer in Academic versus Community Centers in the United States. J Thorac Oncol. 2018;13(12):1842-1850. doi:10.1016/j.jtho.2018.09.007

  2. American Collge of Surgeons. About the National Cancer Database.

  3. Wang EH, Rutter CE, Corso CD, et al. Patients Selected for Definitive Concurrent Chemoradiation at High-volume Facilities Achieve Improved Survival in Stage III Non-Small-Cell Lung Cancer. J Thorac Oncol. 2015;10(6):937-43. doi:10.1097/jto.0000000000000519

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