With a disease as life-altering as cancer, it’s important to be comfortable with your diagnosis and treatment. A second opinion can confirm your diagnosis, suggest an alternate or additional treatment course or even lead to a different diagnosis. A doctor should never be offended if you choose to seek a second opinion. People with any type of cancer can benefit from a second opinion, whether it is a more prevalent type of cancer or rare type of cancer.
Many insurance companies require a second opinion before covering cancer treatment costs.
What to expect from a cancer second opinion?
All programs vary slightly, but generally, a cancer second opinion program will connect you with the appropriate providers and, if needed, arrange for diagnostic imaging such as CAT, PET or MRI scans.
“When a patient calls our Cancer Second Opinion Program, they are connected with a new patient coordinator,” said Adam Currey, MD, a breast radiation oncologist with the Froedtert & MCW Cancer Network. “The new patient coordinator will ensure the patient is set up with the various doctors they will need to see: a medical oncologist, a radiation oncologist, a surgeon, all three or a combination and may include other specialists if needed. We’ll review your scans, so you get a second opinion from the standpoint of interpretation of imaging, and if possible, we’ll review your biopsy slides, so you get a second opinion from the pathologist perspective as well.
Who should seek a second opinion?
One misconception is that a person diagnosed with a prevalent type of cancer (cancer with high incidence such as breast cancer, colon cancer, lung cancer or prostate cancer) may not benefit from a second opinion because treatment protocols are already established. While treatment protocols for certain types of cancers may not vary much from center to center, a physician at one center could recommend treatment options that a physician at another center doesn’t think of or doesn’t have at his or her disposal.
“A second set of eyes is always beneficial,” Dr. Currey said. “Things are less likely to be missed, and the patient receives as complete of a treatment plan as possible.”
Larger medical centers and academic medical centers often have clinical trials that might not be available at smaller centers. Clinical trials expand your treatment choices by offering new options if you have exhausted standard therapies.
Where to seek a second opinion?
When considering where to seek a second opinion, take into account whether the center has specialists in your type of cancer. Many studies show that patients treated at centers that treat high volumes of particular cancer types have better outcomes. This is true for patients with rare, high-risk cancers, and also for patients diagnosed with more prevalent cancers.
“My practice focuses mainly on breast cancer patients,” Dr. Currey said. “I also participate in research on new and better ways to treat the disease. So, with breast cancer as my specialty and seeing many breast cancer patients every day, there may be nuances I encounter and know how to deal with that another radiation oncologist might not.”
If you’re coming from a distance, ask to have your appointments for the second opinion scheduled on the same day.
“Our new patient coordinator can often organize appointments so that a patient sees the medical oncologist, the radiation oncologist and the surgeon on the same day,” Dr. Currey said. “We will also gather your medical records for you ahead of your appointments to make your experience as easy as possible. Our approach is very patient-centered. We want you to feel comfortable that you will walk away with the answers you need.”
When to get a second opinion?
You might seek a second option multiple times because getting one at all phases of cancer treatment can be valuable — before surgery and before chemotherapy and radiation therapy. This can ensure you feel confident about all aspects of treatment.
While you can’t undo treatment you already received, a second opinion could result in enhancements to the treatment and lead to a better outcome.
“This could be anything from adding an additional drug to the end of a chemotherapy regimen to a clinical trial the patient may be eligible for that adds a new treatment to the end of a conventional treatment course,” Dr. Currey said. “For some patients, it makes all the difference.”