As reported by ABC News, January 24, 2006.

How to Get the Best Cancer Care – No Matter Where You Live

First Step: Get a Second Opinion

By Joy Victory

Jan. 24, 2006 – Although cancer affects all ages and races, major cancer centers are typically only found in big cities. For people living in rural areas, getting the best care can be challenging.

It's an issue the American Cancer Society is aware of, and they are working on establishing "Hope Lodges" near most major cancer centers where people who live far away can stay free of cost during treatment. It's a lot like a Ronald McDonald House, but for adults, said Dr. Carolyn Runowicz, president of the American Cancer Society and director of the Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Connecticut Health Center.

There are about 20 lodges right now, and more are planned. The goal is to have at least one in every state, Runowicz said. In the meantime, how do you get the best care? Here are some tips.

It's Not an Emergency
Yes, the diagnosis "you have cancer" is overwhelming and frightening. But in most cases it is not an emergency, Runowicz said.

"I know from being a doctor and being a patient, when you hear the words 'You have cancer,' your whole world turns upside-down, your mind starts racing that you have to get to treatment the very next instant," said Runowicz, who had breast cancer. "You have time catch your breath and realize you need to seek out additional options."

So, if you've been told by your doctor that you have cancer, the next step needs to be seeking out a second opinion, preferably from a doctor located at a major cancer center, Runowicz said.

A Crucial Step: The Second Opinion
Greg Anderson, founder of the Cancer Recovery Foundation, agrees. He said that regardless of your financial situation, seeking a second opinion is the most important step after being learning you have cancer.

During this time, money issues need to take a backseat to medical care, he said, adding that good cancer care is "one of the most important investments of your life."

"It is fair to say that a rather large percentage of diagnoses are incorrect or incomplete," Anderson said. ". . .That's why a second opinion is so important."

Meeting with a doctor face-to-face is the best option, but when that's just not possible, arrangements can usually be made to send medical files to major cancer centers, where expert doctors can double-check the lab records, Runowicz said.

"Most of the testing we do now is done on a computer and can easily be transported," she said.

Getting to Treatment Center
Once a definitive diagnosis has been made, it's time for treatment. This is where the real cost of cancer comes into play, since treatments like radiation and chemotherapy must be done over a period of months.

While some people may be able to find adequate care near their home, some may need to travel a great distance to a major center. Transportation can sometimes be arranged through programs like Corporate Angels, which flies people and family members to medical centers.

Also, the cancer center also may have a Hope Lodge nearby or may provide free lodging on its own, Runowicz said.

Clinical Trials: A Smart Option
Another option is to consider entering a clinical trial administered by the National Cancer Institute. For studies investigating new medications, everyone receives treatment -- or in other words, no one receives a placebo. This makes it a smart option for people who couldn't otherwise afford care.

Anyone in the trial receives free medical care and lodging.

"It's your tax dollars at work," Runowicz said.

To find out more about open clinical trials, visit www.cancer.gov.