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 influence your care. Some people are happy to leave the choice of specialist to their doctor. However, you have a right to be involved in this decision if you would like to be. You may prefer to choose a specialist based on recommendations from family, friends or colleagues, or from your own research.

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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.

You have the right to be treated as a public patient in any public hospital. If you are treated in the public system, you will be treated by the specialist appointed by the hospital. You might want to research public treatment centres that specialise in the type of cancer you have (see Specialist centres). Public hospitals may give priority to patients in their local area, so you may have to wait longer if you want to be treated in a hospital outside your area.

If you have private health insurance, you can choose to be treated as a private patient, or you can avoid out-of-pocket costs by being treated as a public patient in a public hospital.

   — Derek

You can find out about the performance of your local hospitals, including waiting times and infection rates, at

Key issues in choosing a specialist

There are a few issues to think about when deciding which specialist should be responsible for your treatment. Before visiting your cancer specialist for the first time, take some time to prepare for the appointment (see some suggested questions to ask your doctor).

Number of patients

Some specialists and treatment centres have particular expertise in treating certain types of cancer because they see a large number of patients 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 treatment outcomes.

Multidisciplinary care

There is evidence that patients do better if their doctor works as part of a multidisciplinary team (MDT). This means health professionals who specialise in different aspects of your care work together to plan treatment.

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, dietitian and social worker. They meet regularly to review cases and consider treatment options. The team also discusses how best to help individuals cope with the physical and emotional effects of cancer.

Specialist centres 

Another way to tap into expertise is to see if there are treatment centres that specialise in the type of cancer you have. These centres have many patients and also tend to treat rare cancers or cancers that don’t have a typical response to treatment.

Specialist treatment centres have multidisciplinary teams of health professionals experienced in treating particular cancers. They 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.

The key principle is that it’s your right to ask your GP or other doctors 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.

Your preferences

You may prefer to see all your doctors at the one hospital, even if it is a long way from home, or to attend your local hospital to reduce travel time. It’s your right to determine what is most important to you and your doctors should respect your preferences

How to find a specialist

Ask your GP 

Your GP will be able to refer you to a suitable specialist or treatment centre. Your GP should have clear reasons for their choice. You are entitled to ask about those reasons and to receive a clear answer – for example, is it because the specialist has particular skills or simply because they are nearby? You also have the right to ask your GP for a referral to more than one specialist.

Search online 

Check the websites of medical colleges for a list of specialists. For example, you can search for colorectal surgeons on the Colorectal Surgical Society of Australia and New Zealand’s website. You can also check the registration status of a specialist on the national register of practitioners.

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.

If you live in a rural or remote area

In rural areas, your GP may refer you to a local specialist or treatment centre, or to a visiting oncologist. Depending on the type of cancer, they may recommend you travel to a centre that specialises in a particular treatment.

There are some excellent regional cancer centres in Australia, and some regional specialists 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.

All state and territory governments have a patient travel assistance scheme. If treatment for your cancer type is not available close to home, you may be eligible for financial assistance to help cover the cost of travel to a suitable treatment centre. The scheme may also assist with the cost of accommodation.

For more information, see Patient travel assistance schemes, call Cancer Council 13 11 20 or talk to the hospital social worker.

Click on the icon below to download a PDF booklet on cancer care and your rights

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

Instructions for downloading and reading EPUB files

Apple devices

The iBooks application must be installed on your Apple device before you can read the EPUB.
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.
  • open EPUB files directly from Mobile Safari and open them in iBooks, where they are saved automatically by downloading the EPUB from the website.

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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.
Need more help? Visit

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 June 2019
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