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Why a Second Opinion is Critical
Cancer Talk

Why a Second Opinion is Critical

Cancer Talk


Shenell Malloy

People typically like to weigh their options and make decisions based on what suits them best. When we shop for a house, look for a job, or marry someone, we rarely ever just go with the very first choice we find. People like doing research and comparing what’s out there to feel confident that they’re selecting the best option. Unfortunately, when it comes to our health, deciding who will drive your cancer treatment often gets less time and attention than shopping for a new TV.

Getting an initial cancer diagnosis and treatment plan is just your first opinion.

It’s difficult to think clearly when you receive a cancer diagnosis. Most newly diagnosed patients are emotional, overwhelmed and anxious to get the cancer “out” as soon as possible. They want to start treatment immediately and believe their doctor is giving them the best (and only) advice. The situation is tough because cancer patients have to make the biggest decisions when they have the least amount of information. They don’t know about their own cancer type, cutting edge treatments, or how many patients with this exact cancer the doctor or facility have treated successfully. It’s just “go time.” There is immense pressure to get started.

Remember: decisions made early in your treatment are often the most important.

After dozens and dozens of tests at my local emergency room after I had seizures, my brain cancer was misdiagnosed as an infection and emergency surgery was ordered in an ER. Thankfully, I knew in my gut it wasn’t right and pushed for a second opinion.  Aidan, the Co-Founder of Do Cancer, had her cancer mis-classified and how far it had spread was completely overlooked by her first doctor. Thankfully she uncovered her real stage and diagnosis at a cancer research hospital. About half of our long-term Survivor Stories all mention changing treatment plans and hospitals based on missed or incomplete diagnoses. These weren’t done maliciously of course, but getting a firm answer on what cancer you have and the best way to treat it is basic and critical.

What to do after a cancer diagnosis:
  • Confirm the first doctor’s diagnosis. Get another set of eyes on your tests and get a consensus. Oftentimes, a second opinion typically involves a slightly different diagnosis. You’ll want another doctor to validate the cancer type, cancer stage, if it has spread, and what the suggested treatment plan looks like. If the diagnoses and plans are identical, you can feel confident. If they differ, you need a third opinion.
  • See a doctor who specializes in your exact cancer. Cancer is typically found during testing ordered through your general doctor or a local specialist. The chances that they understand your exact cancer and what the latest treatments are lower than an oncologist-specialist. Get to a doctor who focuses on your cancer for the latest knowledge and treatment.
  • Get to a research hospital. The best information and survival rates come from research hospitals. Why? Because all they see is cancer. A local hospital may see your cancer type a few times a month, research hospital’s cancer unit will see thousands of times per month. A research hospital is using cutting-edge treatments, highly specialized plans, the latest equipment, and simply has more experience treating cancer. Don’t get overly-focus on the financial and insurance aspects, most research hospitals are covered – and offer better financial assistance than your local hospital. They are research facilities focused on curing cancer. Get to one for the ultimate peace of mind. Check out a list of cancer research hospitals here.

In the vast majority of cases, you have some time to decide on a direction. You’ll want to make an informed decision to improve your chances of successful treatment. Medical professionals are wonderful, committed individuals who dedicate their lives to helping others. They are practicing medicine; not everything they say is definitive. A great doctor will fully understand your desire to get a second (or a third) opinion with the most critical health decision of your life.

To find an NIH approved cancer research hospital, click here.

To read about another second opinion hospital, click here.

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