Getting a Second Opinion on Cancer: Everything You Need to Know

cancer second opinion

It’s the three little words you hope to never hear a doctor say—you have cancer. 

Cancer is scary. If you or a loved one has received a life-changing cancer diagnosis, it can feel overwhelming at first and take a while to sink in. After the initial shock wears off, you may have many questions and wonder about the next steps.

One of these questions might be, “Should I get a second opinion?” Getting the highest quality care is essential, as is peace of mind that you are in the care of understanding, skilled hands dedicated to doing everything they can to get you well again.

To help you through these decisions, we want to offer some advice on why it may be wise to get a second opinion when you’re confronted with a cancer diagnosis, and when it may make sense to do so. We will also go over some steps on finding an experienced physician who can give you a quality second opinion, and what questions to ask this doctor. 

Should You Get a Second Opinion on Your Cancer Diagnosis?

With so many factors to consider on your journey to recovery, getting a second opinion may feel like a frustrating and time-consuming process. To help you sort through this decision, we’ve listed below a few reasons why it may be a wise step to consider.

Potential for misdiagnosis

As reported by an article in BMJ Journals, researchers analyzed three studies on colorectal and lung cancer and found that doctors made diagnostic errors, and missed opportunities to make correct diagnoses. Extrapolating the data, they estimated that outpatient diagnostic errors occur 5.08% of the time (half of these errors could be potentially harmful) and affect approximately 12 million US adults yearly.

Potential for misdiagnosis

Another study found that out of 70 patients seeking second opinions for their cancer diagnosis, 16 (22.8%) had additional cancers diagnosed, and 14 participants (20%) had a change in pathology interpretation. Overall, 30 of the 70 patients (42.8%) had a change in diagnosis as a result of the medical review. 

Misdiagnoses are uncommon, but they do occur. Getting a second opinion can safeguard you from potential medical errors. 

Advanced treatment options

Medical advancements move rapidly, especially when it comes to cancer, with new studies providing insight into different and more effective treatments quite frequently. Depending on your type and stage of cancer, you may be eligible for advanced treatment options. Researchers are constantly exploring new ways of treating cancer, with the goal of less invasive and more effective options.

As reported by the Henry Ford Health System, medical director Steven Kalkanis, M.D. states, “I have a patient who now is in remission after failing three treatments. The next stage would’ve been going into hospice, but because of this new, targeted gene therapy that came out a few weeks ago, we tried it, and all of a sudden, his tumor responded immediately.”

You may also be a candidate for a clinical trial for advanced cancer therapy. Getting more than one doctors’ opinions can connect you with doctors who are active in researching these new and alternative treatment approaches.

You have nothing to lose

Never give up hope. You have nothing to lose by getting a second opinion—but you have everything to gain. A more seasoned doctor who is an expert in your specific type of cancer, especially if it is rare or complex, may offer advanced treatment options that your community doctor is simply not aware of.

MediFind’s CEO Patrick Howie experienced this when his brother was diagnosed with a semi-rare cancer. His brother’s doctor was supposedly an expert in this cancer type, but the recommended treatment was unsuccessful, and he was eventually sent home with little hope. Thankfully, Patrick stumbled upon a true world-leading expert in this cancer type. With a modified treatment plan, this expert was able to help prolong Patrick’s brother’s life for another two years. With a deep background in big data, Patrick dug into extensive research and discovered another treatment that should have been offered as a first-line treatment. But unfortunately, it was too late. Had his family found this treatment earlier, perhaps it could have saved his brother’s life.

In his brother’s honor and to help health consumers everywhere get access to better care faster, Patrick created MediFind. He believes that every person should have quick access to the finest treatment options and the latest medical advances that have the potential to save lives.   

When Should You Get a Second Opinion on Your Cancer?

You may be wondering if it even makes sense for you to get a second opinion on your cancer diagnosis.

Oncologist Dr. Nitesh Paryani, MD, encourages his patients to get a second opinion and routinely sees patients seeking a second opinion on their cancer diagnosis. 

“I often have patients come to me for a second opinion. It is a big portion of my practice, given my background and training. And I have had several instances where my opinion differs from that of the physician whom they saw previously.”

Dr. Paryani also stated that getting a second opinion may not always be necessary.

“For most standard ‘run of the mill’ cancers, we have established treatment protocols, and most doctors will treat the patient essentially the same way, with some minor variations here and there. But if the second opinion makes a patient more comfortable with the overall treatment plan, then there is value to that.”

Rare cancers require a different protocol

According to Dr. Paryani, “Any time a patient presents with something rare or unusual, I think a second opinion is medically a good idea. For these types of tumors, there is less hard and fast evidence, and a lot more of the ‘art’ of medicine comes into play.”

When Should You Get a Second Opinion on Your Cancer?

Getting another opinion from a doctor who has successfully treated patients with your specific cancer type is likely to increase your confidence in the accuracy of your diagnosis and possible treatment options. Later in this article, we will discuss how to find a doctor who can treat these types of rare cancers and give you a quality second opinion. 

You already received treatment

You may have received treatment, but it didn’t work, so you are hoping for alternative treatment options. A second doctor may provide a broader range of treatment options to consider. Even if you are unsure of the diagnosis and feel doubtful, getting a second opinion can ease your concerns and confirm the original diagnosis. 

You are unsure

If you just want to explore all of your options or you feel unsettled about your diagnosis, it’s your right to seek another perspective. Maybe your doctor expressed some uncertainty, and you are wondering if alternative treatment options are available. Or you may not feel comfortable fully communicating your concerns to your doctor. Whatever the reason, having peace of mind is essential as you navigate this journey.

How to Get a Second Opinion on Cancer (And What’s Involved)

How to Get a Second Opinion on Cancer (And What’s Involved)

Below, we will outline three steps to getting a second opinion and discuss what’s involved with this process.

  1. Talk to Your Current Doctor About Getting a Second Opinion

You may be apprehensive about letting your doctor know you are getting a second opinion for fear of offense and stirring up conflict. The truth is that most doctors do not have a problem with patients seeking out additional guidance; in fact, they welcome it. If you are hesitant about talking to your doctor, we offer some advice in this article: Do Doctors Get Offended When You Get a Second Opinion?

  1. Find a New Doctor With Ample Experience

If you want a quality second opinion, it’s a good idea to find a doctor who has expertise in treating patients with your particular type of cancer, and also is likely to offer a different perspective on your care. This is critical if you are dealing with a rare or complex condition.

To find a cancer doctor easily and quickly, consult MediFind. MediFind uses cutting-edge machine learning techniques to sift through a massive amount of medical data and provide up-to-date findings that help you choose the right providers and make more informed health decisions.

MediFind’s Second Opinion Finder takes user-inputted information including your original doctor, health condition, and location, and provides a list of doctors who are experts in treating your disease (or in this case, your type of cancer), who can offer a different point of view on your care.

For example, if you were diagnosed with the rare cancer Alveolar soft part sarcoma, you would enter this information into our Second Opinion Finder, along with your doctor’s name and your location. We recommend you broaden your search to include cities further than your local area to increase the chances of finding the right doctor. 

MediFind will provide a list of experienced doctors who have treated other patients with your condition. 

Second opinion finder 2

When you click on a doctor’s profile, you can review the doctor’s experience and also read about the latest studies and research this doctor has conducted on this condition.

Second opinion finder 3

Each doctor is also assigned an “expertise level” depending on their experience in seeing patients with this condition, among other factors. Note that all of the doctors listed on the MediFind platform for a given condition have some level of experience, but their knowledge of various conditions varies depending on their specialized involvement. Read more to learn how the MediFind platform works.

  1. Ask Your New Doctor the Right Questions

Once you find a doctor, prepare by writing down some questions to ask during your appointment:

  • How much experience do you have treating this type of cancer? 
  • How many patients have you successfully treated with my cancer type and stage?
  • What treatment options do you recommend, and why? 
  • What are the rates of success for each treatment?
  • Are there any side effects to the treatments?
  • How often will I experience side effects?
  • Can you help me manage side effects?
  • During my treatment, will I be working with you directly or a team of doctors?
  • What if my treatment doesn’t work?

Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor to provide details about your treatment options and what to expect. They should also be able to tell you the success rates and benefits/downsides to each treatment. Also, talk about side effects, including what is typical and how they can help you manage them. Some doctors can provide additional therapies to support your health during your treatments. Discuss your responsibilities and concerns so your doctor can tailor the treatment to your individual needs.

Tipping the Scales in Your Favor

With MediFind, you can have peace of mind that you are choosing the best doctors for your specific type of cancer so you can get the best care as quickly as possible. You will also never miss out on the latest research findings, new treatments, or clinical trials that could improve the quality of care you receive. Here at MediFind, we wish you the best possible health outcomes as you move forward with your cancer diagnosis. 

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