Cancer can be complicated and making decisions about your treatment can feel overwhelming. Following a cancer diagnosis, many people feel that they must make a decision and begin treatment as soon as possible. While this may be true in some instances, taking the time to learn more about your disease and requesting additional opinions is a very reasonable approach.
Second opinions can be valuable in any cancer diagnosis but are especially important in the following circumstances*:
- When the diagnosis is unclear
- When you feel uncomfortable with the recommended treatment
- When the suggested treatment is experimental, or there are no guidelines
- When considering participating in a clinical trial for a new drug, surgical treatment or protocol
Decisions regarding your health should be made after you have been thoroughly informed about your diagnosis, prognosis and available treatment options. If the idea of asking your doctor about getting a second opinion makes you uncomfortable, you’re not alone — many people feel this way. Try to remember that doctors are used to having patients get second opinions and in many cases welcome the information second opinions provide.
“Whether you are looking for another set of eyes to look over your case or other treatment options, I highly recommend searching for a second (or third) opinion. Ask questions and feel empowered when making treatment decisions.” ~ Sarah, two time breast cancer survivor
Involving your healthcare team in the second opinion process is important because the second opinion team will want to see your medical history including records, imaging studies, and lab and test results. You may need your physician’s help in getting copies that you can share with the second care team. Also, it is important to note that some health insurance plans require the second opinion be requested by your doctor.
The process isn’t always easy and be prepared to push if needed.
“After months of begging for an out of network referral to Stanford I met with a breast surgeon as well as a plastic surgeon who finally gave me what I was looking for… options! For the first time since my diagnosis I felt I had control of my body and future health,” says Sarah, age 40, who had breast cancer diagnoses in 2014 and again in 2017.
In most cases, your doctor will respect your wish for a second opinion and may even be able to help you find another physician to consult. If your doctor gets angry or defensive, stand your ground — and if he or she continues to react in this way, it may be a sign that you’re better off finding a new doctor anyway.
“Whether you are looking for another set of eyes to look over your case or other treatment options, I highly recommend searching for a second (or third) opinion. Reach out to friends and/or patients and ask about their experiences. Consult with doctors in different facilities. Ask questions and feel empowered when making treatment decisions,” says Sarah.