Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia: Why See a Specialist?

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Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) affects everyone differently. That’s why all CLL patients should follow unique treatment plans tailored to their specific needs. But your primary care doctor will not have all the information you need to manage your CLL successfully. That’s where specialists come in: a CLL specialist, called a hematologist-oncologist, has the right skills and insight to help you stay in control of your CLL. Here’s why:

1. A hematologist-oncologist completes extensive training in CLL and is an expert in CLL care.

A hematologist-oncologist is an internal medicine physician who specializes in treating diseases of the blood cells (hematology) and cancer (oncology). All doctors complete a training program called a residency after they finish medical school. But hematologist-oncologists receive considerable training beyond that. Hematologist-oncologists spend at least three years in a fellowship to get specialized hematology training, and they can subspecialize in hematology-oncology. During their fellowship, they train under experienced hematologist-oncologists and focus on patients with CLL and other blood-related cancers. At the end of this period, specialists can qualify to become board-certified hematologist-oncologists. Look for a doctor who is board certified in hematology and oncology, and you’ll know you’re seeing an expert. 

2. A hematologist-oncologist never stops learning about CLL.

To maintain their board certifications, hematologist-oncologists must keep up with new developments in their field. They need to be aware of new treatment methods and insights. They must complete continuing education and renew their licenses every few years, depending on the state in which they practice and other factors. By following these requirements, board-certified hematologist-oncologists stay on top of new treatments and discoveries about the mechanisms involved in CLL, so they can then provide their patients with insightful, informed, and up-to-date treatment plans.

3. A hematologist-oncologist has extensive experience in treating CLL.

Hematologist-oncologists see a higher volume and concentration of patients with CLL, and thus are more experienced in treating this type of leukemia. Because they see lots of patients with CLL, they can add real-world knowledge of the disease to their academic and clinical training. They’re able to assess when it’s time to start treating CLL, evaluate how well patients respond to certain treatments, offer a deeper understanding of how CLL progresses over time, and share insights about effectively implementing lifestyle changes, among other skills.

4. A hematologist-oncologist is a team player.

Hematologist-oncologists work with teams of other health care providers who treat patients with CLL and can connect patients with medical oncologists, surgical oncologists, nurse practitioners, dietitians, therapists, and other experts in CLL management. Patients can live long lives with CLL, and working with a team can help patients address all aspects of this type of chronic leukemia for the long haul.

5. It’s easy to find the right hematologist-oncologist for you.

There are thousands of hematologist-oncologists in the United States, so how do you know which is the right doctor for you? By searching on Healthgrades.com, you can identify the best hematologist-oncologist to help you manage your CLL successfully.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Feb 24
1. What does a hematologist-oncologist do? UCLA. https://medschool.ucla.edu/body.cfm?id=1158&action=detail&ref=906

2. Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia: Doctors & Departments. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/chronic-lymphocytic-leukemia/doctors-departments/ddc-20352436
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