A diagnosis of cancer puts a patient in an extremely frightening and vulnerable position. Unfortunately, there is often little aid for people in this situation. Instead, they are presented with bureaucratic hurdles and confusion about whose advice to follow.
For an example, one could look at the July 29th, 2007 New York Times Magazine section which had an article describing the story of one such cancer patient named Karen Pasqualetto.
There are several insights that can be gleaned from such experiences. First, there is the need for patients to seek second and third opinions-a need that usually goes unfulfilled because most people do not have the insurance or financial resources to cover this.
Second, patients need to educate themselves on standards of care, because otherwise they probably will not be getting it-particularly if they are not white or are low-income. See the National Healthcare Disparities Report from 2005 for disparities related to race and socioeconomic status. The ScienceDaily also has an article about racial bias resulting in poorer treatment for African-American patients.
Third, there are enormous advantages to having a team of doctors who speak to each other rather than a bunch of disconnected specialists who offer competing and contradictory advice. Patients should encourage communication between doctors as much as possible.
Fourth, visiting centers for the study of particular kinds of cancer can be extremely helpful, especially when dealing with the more obscure varieties of the disease. These centers have the aid and cooperation of several doctors, so the opinions given there are more likely to reflect a consensus of experts.