A diagnosis of cancer can be scary and agreeing to a treatment plan confusing. It is wise to seek a second opinion or advice from another qualified cancer specialist or group of specialists before or even after you begin treatment.
"We need to let our intuition guide us, and then be willing to follow that guidance directly and fearlessly." - Shakti Gawain
Newly diagnosed cancer patients are often overwhelmed with uncertainty, disbelief, and fear and look to cancer specialists for hope and direction. Some are looking for proof of their diagnosis before beginning treatment , while others are looking for support and guidance to sort out difficult choices. Getting a second opinion involves asking another physician or group of specialists to review your medical records and confirm your doctor's diagnosis and treatment plan as well as answer questions you may have not thought of when you first heard the news of your cancer diagnosis.
Never feel foolish or uncomfortable seeking a second opinion, regardless of the existing qualifications your current doctor has. Many doctors welcome another doctor's opinion because another specialist can in fact confirm that you have cancer or agree with the recommended treatment plan your existing relationship with your doctor may very well become stronger. On the other hand a second opinion doctor may suggest changes or advise you of additional options to the existing or proposed treatment plan you otherwise never know about at the onset of your journey.
There are lots of reasons for seeking a second opinion. Some doctors are cautious in their approach to treatment, while others might suggest a more aggresive approach. You need to hear argument for ALL of your treatment options. A second opinion is a way to make sure you are getting the latest and most effective treatments treatments and that you are made aware of clinical trials that you may want to consider participation in.
Your primary care doctor or specialist may be able to offer the name of a qualified specialist if you ask or refer you to a team of cancer specialists to give you another point of view to help you decide on the best course of treatment. A second opinion is specially important if your doctors has little or no experience with your type of cancer or if he/she offers you little hope that treatment will benefit you. Look at all your options with an open mind and do your homework (or assign a trusted family member or friend who can do it for you) by following up on references and clinical outcomes reports, it could save your life or better protect your quality of life !
Remember another doctor's opinion may change the diagnosis or reveal a treatment your doctor was not aware of. One surgeon may find that your tumor is inoperable (cannot be succesfully operated on), while another may be able to remove it ! If you are asked to consider alternatives, such as surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, hormone therapy or immunosuppressant therapy you may want to hear from each type of oncologist who provides that treatment.
Second opinions are also valuable if you live in a small town or rural area where there may not be many oncology specialists. If so, you may want to get an opinion from specialists at a large academic medical center with expertise in treating your particular type of cancer. In addition another opinion is important if you have a rare cancer and you can identify a noted expert in that cancer to give you advice or consult with your doctor.
Remember: you must tell your doctor you are seeking a second opinion because he /she must make available your clinical history and latest diagnosis, all tests results (blood work and pathology reports) copies of relevant diagnostic testing originals such as radiological films (ultrasound, x-ray, cat scan or mri) and surgical reports; including your treatment plan to the doctor or doctors giving the second opinion.
Additional Sources of Information
- The R.A. Bloch Cancer Foundation, Inc., lists institutions across the United States that provide second opinions from multidisciplinary groups of cancer specialists at their website.
- The Second Opinion Source is a San Francisco based service provided by the Regional Cancer Foundation that offers second opinions from multidisciplinary team of physicians to California adults diagnosed with new or recurring cancers.