A cancer diagnosis can be a daunting experience, often leaving patients and their families feeling overwhelmed and uncertain. In such times, seeking a second opinion can provide a fresh perspective, potentially opening up new avenues for treatment and care. This article, originally penned by Dr. C.D. Buckner M.D. & C.H. Weaver M.D., explores the importance of second opinions in the realm of cancer care.
The Value of a Second Opinion
When faced with a cancer diagnosis, it’s crucial to gather as much information as possible about your specific type of cancer and the treatment options available. A second opinion can offer a deeper understanding of your diagnosis, enabling you to make truly informed decisions about your treatment.
Moreover, a second opinion can also help you find a physician with whom you feel comfortable—someone you respect and who you believe is attentive to your needs. This is particularly important as you navigate the complex journey of cancer treatment.
What Is a Second Opinion?
A second opinion is a review of the primary physician’s cancer diagnosis and treatment recommendations by another, independent physician or cancer center. The most valuable second opinions are by physicians who have a dedicated research and clinical interest in your type of cancer at a major cancer center. Either you, as the patient, or the primary physician can initiate the process of getting a second opinion. Usually, patients obtain a second opinion after being referred to a second physician or to a team of experts, called a multidisciplinary team, in a cancer center. This doctor or team of doctors will review the following:
- The pathology report (how the cancer looks under a microscope) To confirm the diagnosis
- To see if appropriate testing for specific treatment targets was performed, and whether additional testing is necessary
- The stage or extent of spread of the cancer
- The patient’s physical condition
- The proposed treatment plan and other recommendations
The doctor(s) then communicate their opinion regarding treatment to you and, if you desire, to the primary physician. Second opinions are more likely to be comprehensive, or inclusive of every possible perspective, when performed in a cancer center with a multidisciplinary team, which usually includes surgeons, oncologists, radiation therapists, and sub-specialist oncologists.
Why is a Second Opinion Necessary?
A second opinion forms an integral part of the patient education process. With the rapid evolution of cancer treatments in recent years, many types of cancer have become more manageable than before, particularly if the right initial treatment is chosen. To ensure the most suitable treatment, it’s essential to fully comprehend your specific type of cancer and the various treatment options available.
Moreover, the range of treatment options has expanded significantly, and these alternatives can often be more complex than previous methods. For these and other reasons, it’s beneficial to seek multiple opinions on how the cancer can be managed. A second opinion also offers the chance to gather information from a source other than the physician who will be overseeing the treatment, who is typically the primary source of information for most patients. In any complex area of medicine with multiple treatment options, second opinions are a common practice.
Is Seeking a Second Opinion Considered “Poor Manners”?
Patients, their relatives, and friends should remember that second opinions are a standard aspect of cancer management, and they shouldn’t worry about offending the primary physician. If you choose to seek an independent second opinion, it’s crucial to maintain open communication with the primary physician to gather necessary information for review and to keep them informed. Most physicians appreciate having a consultant review and validate their care decisions, or perhaps suggest an alternative treatment that might be a better fit. While there may be instances where a patient disagrees with the primary physician and needs to seek care elsewhere, this isn’t the primary purpose of a second opinion. Most of the time, the goal is simply to ensure you’re receiving the best advice.
Who Covers the Cost of a Second Opinion?
One challenge you might face when seeking a second opinion is that insurance may not cover the cost. However, many insurance and healthcare companies do cover second opinions, recognizing their importance. In some cases, insurers may even require a second opinion, especially when the primary physician recommends a costly treatment. Before seeking a second opinion, it’s important to review your insurance plan to understand what it covers.
Where is the Best Place to Get a Second Opinion?
Ideally, the best place to get a second opinion is from a physician at a cancer center that specializes in your type of cancer. This is usually, but not always, at a major cancer center. However, there are certainly community-based oncologists (general cancer doctors) with specific treatment and research interests. The key is to seek an opinion from someone who specializes in your type of cancer.
Your primary oncologist should be able to refer you to another expert for a second opinion. Besides your primary physician, social media can be a useful tool in finding suitable experts. Online communities of cancer patients are valuable resources, as you can connect with others who have already conducted the research and are often eager to assist others facing a diagnosis. One of the leading social communities is CancerConnect, where many patients discover new treatment options and doctors with specific interests from other community members.
Who Should Seek a Second Opinion?
While the specific situations where a second opinion is most beneficial haven’t been clearly defined, there are certainly circumstances where a second opinion would be useful, and most patients would benefit. These situations might include:
- A diagnosis that is poorly understood or communicated
- An initial diagnosis by a non-cancer specialist
- A diagnosis by a cancer sub-specialist
- An apparent lack of treatment options
- A treatment plan that involves a clinical trial
- Rare cancers
- A treatment plan that involves surgery as the primary treatment
- A diagnosis made at a small or rural hospital
- A treatment plan that involves specialized treatment
The Rapid Advancements in Cancer Care
Cancer care is currently undergoing rapid advancements, thanks to breakthroughs in genomics, technology, and the development of precision targeted therapies. In one year alone, there were 32 new drug approvals by the US Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of cancer.
These advancements are not only limited to drug therapies. Surgical procedures are also evolving, with the use of robotics and the delivery of radiation using newer technology that more precisely targets the cancer and spares normal tissues.
The Importance of Understanding Your Treatment Options
If you are facing a cancer diagnosis, it’s essential to understand which therapy will give you the best chance of a cure and will prolong your life with the fewest side effects. A second opinion can help you understand the treatment options and make an informed decision.
Dispelling the Myths Around Second Opinions
Many patients express concern that seeking a second opinion might offend their doctor or delay treatment. However, this is not the case. Second opinions are routine, will not offend competent physicians, and do not delay therapy. Instead, second opinions provide reassurance to you and your family and potentially expose you to other treatment options that will ultimately allow you to receive the most appropriate therapy.
In conclusion, a second opinion is a critical part of the patient-education process. It helps patients understand their type of cancer and the treatment options available. It also provides the opportunity to get information from someone other than the physician who will be directing treatment, which is usually the main source of information for most patients.
For full article: Cancerconnect – Diagnosed With Cancer? A Cancer Recurrence? When to Get a Second Opinion?
Copyright breastcancerconnect 2023.
About Learn Look Locate
At Learn Look Locate, we understand the importance of being informed and making the best decisions for your health. We provide resources and tools to help individuals navigate their health journey, particularly in the realm of cancer care. Our mission is to empower individuals with knowledge, fostering a proactive approach to health and wellness.