Cancer Treatments: When Should You Fire Your Physician?

Stan Goldberg, PhD

The 1930’s singer and actor Sophia Tucker said “I’ve been rich, and I’ve been poor. Rich is better,”– and so is competency in cancer treatment.

Currently, I’m blessed with competent, caring, and knowledgeable physicians. Often in the past one or more of these attributes were missing. It’s a common complaint I hear from many of my followers. For example,“This guy knows everything about cancer, but he has the personality of a dead fish.” My mother often spoke about how friendly and wonderful her physician was in Florida. Yet, he allowed her cholesterol to jump over 300 before realizing there was a problem.

When I recently visited my oncologist for a cancer treatment he said, “I have two goals. The first is to keep you alive, and the second is to protect your quality of life.” In that one sentence, he revealed more about his compassion and competency than many other physicians express over years.

We talk about eventual scenarios for my prostate cancer and he doesn’t shy away from end of life discussions. When I bring in research articles suggesting another approach to managing my prostate cancer, he never dismisses it, although my Ph.D. is in speech-language pathology rather than medicine.

Unfortunately for many people, few choices exist. Some physicians aren’t accepting new patients; others are so overbooked it takes months to schedule a visit, and many wonderful physicians aren’t covered by specific insurance plans. For someone dealing with a rapidly growing cancer, the situation may be dire.

Given all of these difficult barriers, there are specific behaviors you can use as guideposts for knowing when it might be time to fire your physician. I think this is especially important for anyone with cancer or other chronic illnesses.

Good Things to Observe

1. Willing to discuss contrary information you have about treatment

2. Willingness to talk about end of life considerations

3. Willingness to talk about quality of life issues

4. Willingness to just talk

5. Available during crisis

6. Willingness to have a conversation and not just successive monologues

7. Cares about you as a person and not just someone with a disease he’s treating

Warning Signs

1. Dismisses information you bring into an office visit.

2. Refuses to discuss end of life issues with comments such as “We’re not ready to discuss that yet.”

3. Doesn’t weigh the physical and emotional costs of a treatment protocol.

4. Refers you to an assistant during a medical crisis.

5. Keeps looking at his watch.

6. Doesn’t remember anything about you until he opens your folder.


I hope this helps. Feel free to add others that may be useful to people coping with cancer or other chronic illnesses.

Preventing Senior Moments, by Stan Goldberg

Offers practical and achievable prevention strategies for senior moments.


  1. Lewis Tagliaferre

    Good ideas but I would suggest looking for praise, empathy, attention and approval…basics for all good relationships…PEAA

    • Stan Goldberg

      Absolutely, as long as the physician is competant.

  2. Denise

    I love your lists! It’s so important to have a doctor who engages in the dialogue with you. You don’t want a dictator for a doctor but one who get involves in a democracy.

    • Stan Goldberg

      Thanks Denise. The problem I’ve found is that for many people, although their doctor scores big on the negatives, their choices are limited or non-existent.

  3. Ken

    Excellent guidelines, Stan. Thanks.


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