If You’re Diagnosed with Cancer Get a Second Opinion

Most of us do our homework when making a purchase; we check out the Internet and magazines for information about cost and reliability so we get the most value for our purchases. Yet, when it comes to our healthcare, a majority of us accept the opinion of the first doctor we see without question and consent to their treatment recommendations without a second thought.

As reported online by breastcancer.org, in the case of a cancer diagnosis,a second opinion can be helpful and even critically important before you make decisions about treatment.

A 2006 study of nearly 150 breast cancer patients in Michigan found that more than half were advised to change their treatment plans after getting a second opinion from a multidisciplinary tumor board made up of surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, radiologists, and pathologists. Most hospitals and cancer centers have a tumor board that reviews selected cancer cases, cases that are more complex or challenging and makes treatment recommendations.

These observations were confirmed in a report from the Komen Foundation that estimated almost half of all breast cancer cases, 90,000 of them, are misdiagnosed each year!

Reasons for seeking a second opinion for cancer:

  1. As many as 20,000 doctors who read mammograms lack the necessary skills for the job. Their readings play an important role in not only diagnosing the cancer, but also planning treatments such as radiation therapy and surgery. The FDA posts on its guidelines the “Mammography Quality Standards Act” which require radiologists to have interpreted at least 40 mammograms per month over a 2 year period to be qualified to read and interpret mammograms. According to studies cited by the New York Times, “doctors need to read at least 2,500 films a year to stay sharp.” Is your radiologist an expert?
  2. The pathologist who examines your biopsy is not an expert. Does your pathologist examine at least 250 breast biopsies a year? That’s how many you need to do to be qualified.
  3. Two surgeons may differ in their opinions about the type or extent of surgery you need, as well as the best reconstructive options for you.
  4. Your doctor is not a specialist in your type of cancer.
  5. Your doctor tells you there is uncertainty about the type or extent of the breast cancer you have. Imaging test results (mammography, MRI, ultrasound) and pathology test results (tests performed on the cancer tissue) are not always 100% conclusive.
  6. You’re having trouble understanding and communicating with your doctor, and/or you want your options explained by someone else. This can be a good time to find another specialist who takes the time to explain things in ways you can understand.
  7. You have a less common or even rare type of cancer that doctors don’t see very often.
  8. You have doubts about the accuracy of the first opinion, or you feel that all options have not been explored. Perhaps you’ve done your own research or sought advice from other people with the same type of cancer, and this has led you to wonder if there might be other options for you. Or maybe something just doesn’t feel right. If you’re having any doubts, it’s a good idea to get a second opinion.
  9. Your health insurance plan requires a second opinion before having a particular treatment. If this is the case for your plan, then no other reason is necessary.
  10. Your doctor recommends that you seek a second opinion. If your case is complex or uncertain, or more than one treatment option could benefit you, your doctor might even suggest that you get a second opinion. Many doctors welcome the input of a second expert on challenging cases.

Only 20% of patients with a serious diagnosis get a second opinion and of those that do, 30% do not agree with the opinion of the first doctor. If this isn’t reason enough to get a second opinion, consider that one in three hospitalized patients experience a serious life-threatening medical error while in the hospital. Do you want to go there unnecessarily?

Get the right care and get a second opinion!


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