What is a Second Opinion?
During a second opinion, a physician will perform a comprehensive evaluation of your current and past medical history, your type and stage of cancer and make treatment recommendations.
A physician may also recommend additional diagnostic testing to confirm the type and stage of your cancer. Based on the results, your physician will discuss a variety of treatment options with you.
Why Get a Second Opinion?
Here are six benefits of getting a second opinion for your cancer care:
- Feel Empowered and Take Control – By proactively seeking a second opinion, you and your loved ones become more informed about all of the available treatment options. Learning more about your cancer and your treatment options can also help you feel in control of your health.
- Confidence and Peace of Mind – A second opinion can help you feel more confident that you are choosing the right treatment plan. According to one study, one in eight cancer patients are misdiagnosed. In some cases, a second opinion might yield a different type or stage of cancer, which changes the treatment plan. If the original diagnosis is confirmed, a second opinion may provide additional treatment options for you to consider.
- Discover Advanced Treatment Options – Some hospitals have technology that is not available at another facility. Seeking a second opinion from a doctor in another health system could provide more cancer treatment options, including treatments that are more advanced or more tailored to your individual needs.
- Find a Doctor You Really Like – Most doctors understand that patients have a right to a second opinion and should not feel offended. In fact, many doctors encourage it before making a treatment decision. You are under no obligation to treat with the oncologist recommended by your primary doctor. When meeting with a new doctor, take note of the nurses and office staff, to make sure you choose to treat with the best team and/or hospital for your needs.
- You Have a Rare Cancer – A rare cancer could mean a greater chance of misdiagnosis, since it may be a disease that the pathologist has rarely encountered. If you’ve been diagnosed with a rare cancer, a second opinion may be beneficial to confirm the disease type and stage.
- You’ve Been Told There is No Hope – If one doctor says your cancer is untreatable, another doctor may explore additional treatment options with you. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by getting a second opinion.
Second Opinion Etiquette
You may feel concerned that your doctor will be offended if you decide to seek advice from another healthcare professional, and that is perfectly understandable. A good doctor will understand that many patients decide to seek another opinion, and will want you to feel comfortable and assured before starting treatment.
Honesty is an important part of the doctor/patient relationship, so it is best to keep both doctors aware of your decisions. You will need to retrieve medical records from your original appointment, and this can be a time to inform your physician that you are exploring other treatment options.
A doctor that is insulted by your choice to get another opinion may not be someone you’d like to treat with in the future, as this is a common practice.
10 Questions to Ask Your Doctor
Asking the right questions can help you understand important information about your cancer diagnosis. Here are 10 questions to ask your oncologist:
- What types of diagnostic testing do you perform? An accurate diagnosis is critical because it is the basis upon which your treatment plan will be determined. For example, PET/CT scans help determine the precise location of cancer in the body to accurately plan treatment. Tumor molecular profiling identifies a tumor’s unique blueprint to choose targeted chemotherapy drugs. It’s important to have access to advanced diagnostic tests, as well as physicians who are experienced in performing them.
- What does my diagnostic testing tell me? The information you should receive from diagnostic tests includes: where the cancer originated, the size of the tumor, the stage of cancer and whether or not it has spread to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body.
- What treatment options are available? What do you recommend and why? Many types of cancer have a variety of treatment options available. Your doctor should be able to explain the potential benefits of each to help you understand your options, even if he or she doesn’t perform a specific treatment.
- What happens if a treatment approach doesn’t work for me? At any point, you should feel comfortable asking your doctor about the status of your treatment. When choosing a care team, you may want to consider doctors willing to try new therapies, depending on your response. Look for professionals who will tailor treatments to your specific diagnosis, and who are willing to pursue other options if your treatment isn’t progressing as expected.
- What are the side effects of treatment, and how often do your patients experience them? No two people will have the exact same response to cancer treatment, and side effects may vary depending on what type of treatment you choose. Ask your doctor what side effects you might experience, so that you can plan ahead and choose with all of the information you need.
- How will you help me manage side effects? Integrative therapies can help prevent or manage side effects, so you stay strong and avoid treatment interruptions. Some therapies that can support your wellness during cancer treatment include: nutrition therapy, naturopathic medicine, mind-body medicine, acupuncture, oncology rehabilitation, spiritual support and pain management. Ask your doctor if any of these are available at your hospital, and how they can be incorporated into your treatment plan.
- How many patients have you treated with my type and stage of cancer, and how successful have you been? Ask how much experience your doctor has treating your type and stage of cancer and whether he/she is a board-certified specialist. You may also want to ask about his/her facility’s treatment results so you can see how successful they have been in treating your cancer type.
- Who will be involved in my care, how often will they meet and who is my main point of contact? An integrated care team including a surgical, medical, and/or radiation oncologist; dietitian; naturopathic oncology provider; clinical nurse and medical advocate (often a nurse care manager) can ensure you get support for your entire well-being during treatment. If you don’t already have a team like this in place, talk to your doctor about assembling a multidisciplinary team.
- Where will all my treatments, appointments, tests, etc., take place? When looking for a treatment facility, consider the coordination and convenience of your treatment. Having appointments and procedures in one location can make treatment less stressful for you, and it may allow you to start treatment sooner.
- How will you help me balance my cancer care with the demands of my normal life? Your cancer treatment should adapt to your individual needs, and family and professional obligations. Talk to your doctor about your personal needs, so that all aspects of your life are considered when choosing a treatment plan.
The path to the right treatment plan
Exploring your options with a second opinion could help you find the right treatment plan for your individual needs. Discover the benefits of seeking a second opinion.