The idea of getting a second opinion after a lung cancer diagnosis may make you feel uncomfortable. But cancer organizations, including the American Society of Clinical Oncology and the Lung Cancer Foundation of America, say second opinions are a must.
Not every cancer doctor in the country is up to date on the latest treatments, and the impact of a an inaccurate assessment can be enormous. One review published in the May 2014 issue of the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings found that 10 to 62 percent of second opinions for cancer diagnoses led to a major change in the diagnosis, treatment, or prognosis for patients. What’s more, many health insurance companies reimburse for second opinions, and some even require them.
Here are some reasons to get a second opinion:
You Have Doubts About Your Diagnosis. Many patients in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings study were confirming a diagnosis or treatment recommendation or dissatisfied with their initial consultation. “I recommend that patients get a second opinion if they’re thinking about it, because it provides them with some peace of mind,” says Catherine Ann Shu, MD, an oncologist at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City.
You’ll Get a Second Pair of Eyes on Your Pathology Report. Pathology reports, which are basically a scientist’s interpretation of the appearance of the cancer cells, indicate not just that you have cancer, but the type and stage of the cancer, which is critical information when it comes to making treatment choices. Pathologists do sometimes come to different conclusions, so make sure you’re acting on the right information. One study published in the February 2013 issue of Archives of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine found 457 major discrepancies among more than 70,000 pathology reports, almost all of which affected treatment decisions.
You’ll Find Out How to Handle Nodules. Doctors often recommend that people at high risk for lung cancer, like long-time smokers, have a computed tomography (CT) scan to keep an eye out for early changes that might suggest lung cancer. Often these changes take the form of nodules (lumps of tissue). But not all nodules are cancerous, and you’ll need to decide what to do if one turns up (watch and wait, or biopsy, for starters). If your CT scan is positive, you may want a second opinion about how to proceed.
Your Doctor Isn’t a Lung Cancer Specialist. Some oncologists treat several different types of cancers and so may not have as much experience treating lung cancer patients. It goes to reason that the more a doctor treats a specific kind of cancer, the more experience they have. If you were diagnosed by someone who was not a lung cancer specialist, you may want to find a specialist for the second opinion.
You Have Several Treatment Choices. Though the treatment guidelines for common lung cancers are often fairly straightforward, seeing more than one doctor might lead to a different (and better) approach. A second opinion can help you make the best decision after considering all the options.
You Were Told That Surgery Isn’t Possible. Some lung cancers are deemed operable, and some are not. Speaking with a thoracic surgeon (a chest surgeon) who specializes in lung cancer will help ascertain whether it’s possible for sure, says Dr. Shu.