What if a second opinion is the right one?

Why get a second opinion?

When you’re fighting a disease like cancer, you want to have confidence in the treatment options available and know that they are being delivered by a team of experts. A second opinion helps you feel confident that you are receiving the cancer care you need and deserve. A second opinion may reveal additional treatment options for your type and stage of cancer, or confirm a current treatment approach. Some treatment options may result in a speedier recovery, with fewer side effects and a better prognosis.

Exploring a second opinion may help you make a more informed decision about your cancer treatment. It may also introduce you to advanced treatment options, if they are available for your cancer type and stage.

Six benefits of getting a second opinion for your cancer care

Empowerment and control: By proactively seeking a second opinion, you and your loved ones become more informed about the available treatment options. Learning more about your cancer and your treatment options may also help you feel in control of your health.

Confidence and peace of mind: A second opinion may help you feel more confident that you are choosing the right treatment plan for you. According to one study, one in eight cancer patients is misdiagnosed. In some cases, a second opinion may point to a different type or stage of cancer, which would change the treatment plan. If the original diagnosis is confirmed, a second opinion may provide additional treatment options for you to consider.

Advanced treatment options: Some hospitals have technology that is not available at another facility. Seeking a second opinion from a doctor in a health system that uses state-of-the-art tools and technologies may provide more cancer treatment options, including treatments that are more advanced or more tailored to your individual needs.

Choice of 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 team and/or hospital that fits your needs.

A greater chance of a correct diagnosis: If you’ve been diagnosed with a rare cancer, a second opinion may confirm the disease type and stage. A rare cancer may mean a greater chance of misdiagnosis, because it may be a disease the pathologist has rarely encountered.

A chance for hope: If one doctor says your cancer is untreatable, another doctor may explore additional treatment options with you. You have nothing to lose and much 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 health care professional, but most doctors 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 experts recommend that you keep both doctors aware of your decisions. You will need to retrieve medical records from your original appointment, and this may be a time to inform your physician that you are exploring other treatment options.

10 questions to ask your doctor

Asking the right questions may 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 location of cancer in the body to accurately plan treatment. Advanced genomic testing identifies a tumor’s unique blueprint to determine whether targeted drugs should be recommended to treat it. It’s important to have access to a wide array of 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 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 about the side effects you may experience, so that you’re able to plan ahead and take possible precautions to avoid or manage these side effects.

How will you help me manage side effects? Integrative therapies may help prevent or manage side effects, to help you stay strong and avoid treatment interruptions. Some therapies that may support your wellness during cancer treatment include: nutrition therapy, naturopathic medicine, mind-body medicine, oncology rehabilitation, spiritual support and pain management. Ask your doctor if these are available at your hospital, and how they may 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 or she is board-certified in a relevant specialty. You may also want to ask for the 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) may help you get support for your 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 may 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.

Our treatment approach at City of Hope

At City of Hope, we evaluate your medical history and conduct comprehensive diagnostic testing to make treatment recommendations for your type and stage of cancer, as well as your individual and lifestyle needs. When you visit us, we do everything we can to make your time at our hospital as convenient and stress-free as possible.

One-day second opinion

Getting a second opinion may help you decide the cancer treatment designed to meet your needs. Many of us face time constraints, and fitting another appointment into your busy work or home life may be challenging.

Many factors determine how long a second opinion evaluation takes. During the evaluation, a dedicated team of oncologists, nurses, dietitians and other cancer experts work with you to review your medical history, diagnostic tests and treatment status. We may also use additional diagnostic technology to further evaluate the disease. Using all this information, we then develop your personalized treatment plan.

Although a comprehensive evaluation typically takes a few days, we may be able to provide a one-day second opinion consultation in certain circumstances. When you contact us for a second opinion, we will speak with you about your individual situation and needs. The option of a one-day second opinion will be based on your schedule, medical needs and our clinical team’s ability to provide a thorough evaluation in the designated time.

Your next steps

The best way to learn about what we have to offer at City of Hope is to call an Oncology Information Specialist (OIS) at (888) 552-6760. Our OIS representatives are available 24/7 to assist you.