Receiving a cancer diagnosis can be a stressful and frightening event. Many cancer survivors report that when their doctors first told them of their diagnoses, they heard the word “cancer” and then simply shut down, temporarily overwhelmed by the news. This response is common and expected. Nonetheless, at some point—better sooner than later—the patient and his or her family need to begin to process the details of the diagnosis, the anticipated treatment plan and the expected prognosis. Second opinions are often wise to obtain for many health diagnoses, but they’re particularly important for cancer because of some common characteristics of the disease and side effects of common treatments.
Reason #1 – It is Probably Required by Your Insurance Company
While the simple diagnosis of a cancerous condition doesn’t necessarily require a second opinion, the expense and length of the recommended treatments often make insurance companies red flag the cancer diagnostic codes for a second opinion. Most healthcare experts recommend second opinions even when they aren’t required by the responsible insurance company, for the patient’s sake.
Reason #2 – Your Condition Might Not Be Cancer
A second look at a patient’s laboratory work, biopsy results or imaging scans by a second and different set of eyes might lead to another diagnosis that doesn’t involve cancer at all. Misdiagnoses are more common in certain types of cancer than others, but this option needs to be discussed with the diagnosing oncologist, often to assure the patient and enlist their full cooperation in the treatment plan.
Reason #3 – Treatment Recommendations May Differ
One of the primary reasons for a second opinion is not only verification of the diagnosis, but to seek approval of—or alternatives to—suggested treatment. Cancer treatment and medications change very frequently, and newer therapies with fewer side effects may have become available since the diagnosing oncologist last reviewed the latest research. IU Health, for instance, offers an established and highly-regarded proton therapy treatment program for certain cancers like chordoma, chondrosarcoma, prostate cancer and other malignancies that allow patients markedly fewer side effects and an overall improved quality of life.
Reason #4 – You May Need to Choose Among Treatment Options
Another reason for patients to seek second opinions is to gather as much education about the various medical tests and treatment options as possible. Different individuals and families have varying degrees of available resources and options. Only by being completely aware of the requirements of alternative types of treatment can patients knowledgeably choose among their options based upon their resources.
Reason #5 – You May Need an Expert
Oncologists are physicians who have received additional training and education in treating cancer. Among doctors, they are experts in cancer. Some oncologists, however, have additional specialized experience in treating specific forms of cancer. Such specialists may be necessary to provide a fully knowledgeable second opinion and up-to-date recommendations for treatment.
Healthcare experts recommend—and most health insurance companies require—second opinions for good reason. In situations involving a diagnosis of cancer, most patients can only benefit from obtaining a second opinion and another doctor’s perspective on their case. If you or someone you know has recently been diagnosed with cancer, please seek out a second opinion to make the most informed decision possible.
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