A Patient's Perspective

Can My Primary Care Doctor Treat My Cancer?

Eric M. Weil, MD, FACP


Am Fam Physician. 2018;98(3):147-148. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


When I was diagnosed with stage IV terminal lung cancer, my primary care doctor gave me the news. His compassion created a pathway of healing that has sustained me for more than seven years.

Shortly after my diagnosis, I had a set of scans. One concern was the condition of my lung: had it sufficiently re-expanded so that I could safely fly to see loved ones? When I turned to my oncologist, she said I had to wait eight days for the scan results. The surgeon also had protocols that prevented him from sharing information with me. Frantic, more about my trapped lung than the cancer, I turned to my primary care physician. Without hesitation he said over the phone, "Let's open your scan right now." Not only was I safe to fly, my tumors were smaller after targeted therapy.

Soon afterward, my oncologist called to say, "Your primary care doctor should not have given you that information, and I am going to speak to him." Her anger triggered a stress response in me—hardly a situation conducive to optimal well-being. I was worried that my doctor was in trouble for helping me. But, when I saw him later and apologized for causing him hardship, he asked warmly, "How could you have caused me hardship?"

After having problems with several oncologists, I asked my primary care physician to assume my cancer treatment. Although the cancer center asserted that only oncologists can prescribe targeted therapy, my doctor took the matter to the chief of medicine, and he was allowed to treat my cancer. Because of his courage, I am thriving. Primary care doctors can take a holistic view of treatment, and this in itself is life-changing and life-saving. —N.W.