A cancer diagnosis is an overwhelming experience; it can bring a strong sense of urgency. As soon a patient receives a cancer diagnosis, he/she starts planning for treatment immediately — even if that were possible.
But as the cancer is complex, so is its treatment. It is not like any other disease that you get and start treatment. There are different types of cancer and few options available for treatment. It is tough to understand which is the best treatment. But rarely, if ever, does a cancer treatment plan start right away. Between a diagnosis and starting treatment, you may want to consider getting a second opinion about your situation.
It is essential to take time to understand your cancer diagnosis and prognosis and compare the treatment options before starting the treatment.
If you are diagnosed with a common type of cancer that is in its early stages, and you are comfortable with the test results, prognosis and treatment plan your oncologist provides you, a second opinion may not be as crucial as it would be if you feel unsure about your prognosis, your cancer is complex, or you’re offered limited treatment options,
You can get a second opinion during cancer care, before chemotherapy, surgery or radiation. However, it is good to go for a second opinion immediately after the diagnosis and before starting any treatment. A second opinion can help give you more information regarding the diagnosis, suggest other treatment options, and change your treatment course.
You may need about a few days to get a second opinion. Usually, this delay will not affect your treatment, but to be sure, verify with your doctor if it is alright to delay the remedy until you get another opinion. A more scientific and informed treatment plan is worth a delay of a few days as it ensures you have the best chances of recovery from cancer.
Cancer is a severe ailment; you must feel confident in your diagnosis and treatment. If you have any doubts about it, consulting another doctor can help you. Getting a second opinion can help confirm the idea of your first doctor or provide guidance on other treatment options.
Your reason for getting a second opinion on your cancer diagnosis may be as simple as wanting as much information as possible. But you may also like a second opinion to confirm:
- your diagnosis is right
- About the type, stage, and location of your cancer
- Other treatment options
- Which clinical trials might work for
Is seeking a second opinion always necessary?
If you get a common cancer diagnosis that’s in its early stages, and you’re comfortable with the test results, prognosis and treatment plan your oncologist provide you, a second opinion may not be as important as it would be if you feel unsure about your prognosis or plan, your cancer is complex, or your doctor offers you limited treatment options. Here are five situations under which a second opinion becomes important.
You are not sure about your diagnosis or treatment options
Being diagnosed with cancer, it is entirely understandable to want to be sure that the plan is the best, especially if you are diagnosed with aggressive cancer.
Your diagnosis does not just help inform prognosis; it determines which treatment options are available to you. Even small changes in diagnosis can change a treatment plan. Unfortunately, diagnostic errors also happen, and different oncologists can reach different opinions.
Additionally, not all hospitals and doctors use the same treatment method. And even if your second opinion confirms your original diagnosis and treatment plan, the affirmation will boost your confidence and peace of mind.
You are diagnosed with rare cancer or an unusual subtype of cancer
Rare cancers affect around 40,000 people every year. There are different types, but your oncologist can help you understand whether your specific type of cancer is rare or unusual.
Since rare and unusual cancers occur less frequently, doctors see them less frequently. They are also more challenging to study and often have few treatment options. This means you may benefit from consulting with an oncologist who specializes in your type of rare cancer and who also practices at a cancer center offering cutting-edge treatments that might not be offered elsewhere.
Your treatment comprises a life-changing surgery
In some cases, surgery is required to eliminate a tumor. If the surgical procedure presented to you is not minimally invasive, consider getting a second opinion.
New technologies and surgical approaches like robotic systems and laparoscopic techniques make cancer treatment less invasive. These treatments are becoming more commonly available, but some still rely on a level of technology and surgeon expertise beyond what is generally found at most hospitals.
It is also recommended to get a second opinion if the surgery impacts your fertility or physique, such as a mastectomy or gynecologic cancer surgery. In some cases, robotic surgery can remove cancer while sparing fertility. And many alternatives to traditional mastectomy exist, including nipple-sparing mastectomy with immediate breast reconstruction.
Your treatment requires extended treatment.
If your treatment involves taking medications indefinitely, a second opinion can ensure you make the correct decision. It is also possible that there may be a new, more effective treatment available that is not offered anywhere or a clinical trial taking an innovative approach to treating your cancer type.
A second opinion also helps ensure that you are selecting a hospital that offers all of the services needed to help you effectively manage your extended treatment plan. This is about more than just regularly seeing your oncologist about your condition and the side effects you might be experiencing. It is about finding a team that offers care beyond your physical needs.
Your cancer does not respond to your current treatment plan
Cancer is a very complex disease. In a few cases, the initial treatment plan doesn’t show the expected results. A second opinion can help determine whether there might be a different way to approach your cancer in that scenario. If no other options are available, it can at least give you peace of mind that you have exhausted all treatment avenues and left no stone unturned.
What to do with your second opinion
If your second opinion agrees with your first, you can take that peace of mind and move forward with your treatment plan.
What if the two do not match?
Things become difficult when the two opinions disagree. It is hard for a patient to rectify inconsistencies in diagnosis or treatment options. But, if it happens, it is important for you to work closely with both doctors to understand their point of view for their respective decisions.
How a Second Opinion Can Help?
- Helps in confirming your diagnosis.
- Determines if the cancer has spread.
- Gives perspective from specialists with different expertise (such as a radiation oncologist or surgical oncologist).
- Determines clinical trials or alternative therapies that apply to your treatment plan.
- Helps if you have a rare or unusual cancer.
- Treatment offered has side effects or risks that you find disconcerting.
- Treatment options will result in unacceptable or unreasonable demands on your life and your family.
- Your doctor’s treatment goals are different from your own.
- Your cancer is not responding to your ongoing treatment.