Hospitals—especially the bigger regional medical centers—are in an all-out war for your business. Whether it’s in a TV ad or on a billboard, there are images of white-coated doctors with headlines suggesting that you can get world-class medical care right near your home. It’s a powerful claim and, in many instances, may be true. But for certain conditions—particularly cancer—you should do a lot of homework before you commit to your local medical center for care.

Diagnosing and treating cancer is complicated and often requires the expertise of several specialists, such as a surgeon, radiologist, oncologist, pathologist and others, who are highly trained in cancer care. These specialists need to work as a team to make sure that your care is coordinated from the minute you enter the system throughout the ongoing follow-ups that all cancer patients need. Spending on cancer care will reach up to $207 billion by 2020—far more than what it was in 2010. As a result, hospitals all around the country see this as a massive revenue stream and are erecting new buildings that they’re calling “cancer centers.” But there are no established guidelines for these cancer centers. To get the best possible cancer care for yourself or a family member…

• Seek out an NCI-Designated Cancer Center. The National Cancer Institute, the federal government’s world-renowned agency overseeing research and care strictly related to cancer, has chosen 69 programs in 35 states and the District of Columbia as NCI-Designated Cancer Centers. Most of these programs are affiliated with major teaching hospitals and medical schools, although some are freestanding cancer centers. Hospitals and medical centers must apply for the designation and demonstrate that they meet a set of standards established by the NCI and must undergo regular reviews. NCI-Designated Cancer Centers not only have the resources needed to provide the highest quality in diagnosis and treatment but also are the sites where most clinical trials originate and are coordinated. This is especially important for people with advanced cancers or otherwise hard-to-treat malignancies. To find an NCI-Designated Cancer Center: Go to and search for “NCI-Designated Cancer Centers.” Or call the NCI at 800-4-Cancer.

• Look for an affiliated hospital. If you can’t travel to an NCI-Designated Cancer Center or your insurance plan will not pay for it, seek out the nearest local facility that has an affiliation with one of these cancer centers. Highly regarded facilities, such as New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering, have made affiliations with top-notch regional medical centers, allowing certain local medical facilities to communicate with some of the most renowned specialists and access to many clinical trials not normally made available to local hospitals. To find out if your local medical center has such an affiliation, call and speak to someone in the oncology department.

• Look for experience. Not all cancer care needs to be provided at an NCI-Designated Cancer Center or even an affiliated program. Many early-stage or slow-growing cancers, such as most prostate and even some breast cancers, can be treated by local physicians who have a history of successful care handling your specific type of cancer over a period of several years. Ask your family doctor for a referral based on his/her experience with similar cases.