Deciding on specialist care

It is important that you feel comfortable and confident with your choice of specialist because you will have a lot of contact with them and they will have influence over your care. This section describes points to consider when choosing a specialist, and outlines your rights when making a decision.

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Choosing a specialist

Under the Medicare system, you need a referral to see a specialist. This referral can come from a GP or another specialist. Some people are happy to leave the choice of specialist to their GP. However, you have a right to be involved if you would like to be. You may prefer to choose a specialist based on recommendations from other people, such as family, friends or colleagues.

Public or private treatment

You are entitled to be treated as a public patient in a public hospital.

  • you can be referred to any specialist regardless of where they are located
  • you can have a say in where you are treated by researching a public treatment centre that may specialise in the type of cancer you have
  • public hospitals may give priority to patients in their local area, so you may have to wait longer if you want to be treated by a specialist outside your area.

If you have private health insurance, you can be treated as a private patient in a private facility, or you can avoid out-of-pocket expenses by being treated in a public hospital. See Health care in Australia.

Key issues in choosing a specialist

Issues to consider when deciding which specialist should be responsible for your treatment, include:

Number of patients

  • Some specialists and treatment centres see a large number of patients with certain types of cancer and therefore have more experience.
  • For some types of cancer, there is evidence that health professionals who treat a lot of patients have the best outcomes.

Multidisciplinary care

  • Evidence suggests that patients have better outcomes if their doctor works as part of a multidisciplinary team (MDT). This means health professionals work together to plan treatment and manage care.
  • The MDT often includes a surgeon, a medical oncologist, a radiation oncologist, a cancer care coordinator, a nurse and allied health professionals, such as a physiotherapist and a dietitian.
  • MDT meet regularly to review cases and consider treatment options. 
    Also discusses how best to help the patient cope with the physical and emotional effects of cancer.

Specialist centres

  • Some treatment centres specialise in specific types of cancer. They tend to have many patients and also treat rarer cancers or cancers that don’t have a typical response to treatment. 
  • To find out about a specialist centre, ask your GP for suggestions. If they’re not familiar with specialist centres, they may be able to refer you to someone who is.
  • It’s your right to ask about specialist treatment centres and to be referred to a specialist in one of those centres, even if it’s not in your local area.
  • Specialist treatment centres are often teaching centres, which means you might be treated by a junior doctor who is supervised by a specialist. There could be long waiting lists for these centres.

How to find a specialist

  • Ask your GP – If your GP has already referred you to a specialist or treatment centre, you should ask on what basis they have referred you – is it because the specialist has particular skills or simply because they are nearby?

    Your GP should have clear reasons for referring you to a particular specialist, and you are entitled to ask about those reasons and to receive an answer. You also have the right to ask your GP for a referral to more than one specialist.

  • Search online – Check the websites of cancer organisations for a list of specialists. For example, you can search for colorectal surgeons on the Bowel Cancer Australia website.
  • Contact the treating hospital or centre – The websites of many hospitals allow you to search for a specialist who works at that location. Alternatively, you can call the hospital and ask about specialists who treat the type of cancer you have.

What if I live in a regional or rural area? 

In rural areas, your GP may refer you to a local specialist or treatment centre, or to a visiting oncologist.

There are some excellent regional cancer centres in Australia, and some specialists in these areas treat many cancer patients.

However, some regional specialists treat far fewer cancer cases than doctors in metropolitan areas, and there may be a long wait to see the visiting oncologist.

If treatment for your cancer type is not available close to home and you must travel for treatment, you may be eligible for financial assistance to pay for travel to a suitable treatment centre. Accommodation costs may also be covered.

To find out about assistance programs in your area, call Cancer Council 13 11 20 or visit, search for ‘PATS’ and click on ‘Patient Assisted Travel Schemes’.

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Printed copies are available for free - Call 13 11 20 to order

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Different ways to download an EPUB file to your Apple device:

  • email EPUB files to yourself and transfer the attachment to iBooks.
  • copy EPUB files into DropBox (or a similar service) and use the DropBox app to send them to iBooks.
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To download an EPUB file to your Kobo from a Windows computer:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • select “Open folder to view files” to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

To download an EPUB to your Kobo from a Mac:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • open your “Finder” application.
  • select “Kobo eReader” from the listed devices to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, probably in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

Turn on your Kobo and your EPUB will be located in “eBooks”, while a PDF will be located in “Documents”.
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Sony Reader

To download an EPUB file on your Sony Reader™:

  • ensure you have already installed the Reader™ Library for PC/Mac software
  • select the eBook you want from our website and click the link to download it.
  • connect the Reader™ to your computer.
  • open the Reader™ Library software and click “Library” in the left-hand pane and select the eBook to view it.

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Amazon Kindle 2nd Generation devices

EPUB files can’t be read on the Amazon Kindle™. However, like most eReaders, Kindle™ 2nd Generation devices are able to display PDFs. We recommend that you download the PDF version of this booklet if you would like to read it on a Kindle™.
To transfer a PDF to your Kindle™ via USB cable from your computer or Mac:

  • download the PDF directly onto your computer.
  • connect the USB cable to your computer’s USB port, and the micro USB end of the cable to your Kindle™. Note: the Kindle™ won’t be available as a reading device while it is connected to your computer until it has been disconnected.
  • open the Kindle™ drive and several folders will appear inside. The “Documents” folder is where you will need to copy or drag the PDF to.
  • safely eject your Kindle™ from your computer and unplug the USB cable. Your content will appear on the Home Screen.

Kindle also provides a Kindle Personal Documents Service that allows users to send documents as an attachment directly to your eReader. For more information on this service, visit
For more information on accessing a PDF on your Kindle™, visit, log in to your account and click on Personal Document Settings.
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Android and PC

You can also download and open eBooks on Android devices and PCs with appropriate apps or software installed. Suitable eReader apps for Android include Google Play Books, FBReader and Moon+ Reader. Suitable software for PCs include Calibre and Adobe Digital Editions.

This information was last reviewed in April 2016
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