When facing a life-changing cancer diagnosis, you’re bound to have a lot of questions. First, there are the emotional ones like What’s going to happen to me? Or How serious is it? And then there are practical matters: Where should I go for treatment? What will I do about insurance?
Before you start mapping out a treatment plan, however, most doctors encourage patients to slow down and take a crucial, but often overlooked step: get a second opinion.
“The truth of the matter is, all physicians—all good physicians—encourage second opinions,” says Steven Kalkanis, M.D., a neurosurgeon specializing in brain tumor treatment with Henry Ford Health. “If we ourselves or any of our family members were diagnosed, we would all be getting second opinions.”
Despite how vital another assessment can be, however, plenty of patients don’t seek one out. In fact, according to a 2017 study, 90 percent of newly diagnosed breast cancer patients (out of nearly 2,000) didn’t get a second opinion.
Why? Some patients feel pressured to start treatment right away and don’t want to stall. Others are afraid that seeking advice from another doctor might offend their current physician and impact their relationship moving forward.
Regardless, Dr. Kalkanis says, when facing a serious illness like cancer, nothing should stand in your way of receiving care that provides the greatest opportunity for success and makes you feel comfortable. (Especially not your doctor’s ego). Here are five other reasons why getting a second opinion should be a top priority on your road to recovery:
- Peace Of Mind. A cancer diagnosis is scary, and even if you feel like you’ve already found the right team, you may want reassurance to quell the ‘what-ifs.’ “Sometimes a second opinion is important not because you’re going to be offered something different, but just to confirm what your original team has already said,” Dr. Kalkanis says. “The confidence factor that patients need as they start down a long journey of treatment makes a big difference in their outcome. If they’re constantly in doubt and anxious and second-guessing themselves, all kinds of complications can arise from that.”
- Up-To-Date Treatment And Technology. Our knowledge about cancer and how to treat it is changing rapidly. Every year, new studies provide insight that can lead to more effective treatment, and although doctors may occasionally seem like super-intelligent super heroes, they’re only human and thus, their knowledge is limited. “One physician or one hospital might not be better or worse than another, but they may not know about a new treatment because of the rapid fire breakthroughs that are happening… And while seeking a second opinion, you may learn of a new technology available near you that’s only recently emerged. “I have a patient who now is in remission after failing three treatments,” Dr. Kalkanis says. “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.”
- Different Perspectives. Most of the time, successful treatment is not the result of just one doctor’s efforts. Instead, it requires a team of oncologists, surgeons, nurses and more who each bring a different perspective and approach to treatment. “The patients who do best do well because they’ve had a multidisciplinary approach,” Kalkanis says.
- Access To Clinical Trials. Clinical trials (real-world research studies involving people) allow doctors to determine new approaches in preventing, diagnosing and treating diseases. Oftentimes, cancer patients who seek second opinions at different facilities will learn of a current or upcoming clinical trial that’s right for them or their treatment plan. “Some hospitals, doctors or teams can offer certain clinical trials for advanced cancer therapy that might not be offered elsewhere or that other places might not even know about,” Dr. Kalkanis says.
- You Simply Don’t Like What You Hear. If the first opinion you receive fills you with fear or doubt, know that another doctor might have a different approach in mind. And just because one doctor suggests an unsettling prognosis, another doctor might offer more hope. “There’s a lot of hope out there,” Dr. Kalkanis says. “There’s a lot of breakthroughs. But patients have to do their homework in terms of where these procedures are being offered.”
No matter how or where you get a second opinion, newly diagnosed patients should take solace knowing that there’s more hope for cancer treatment and cancer diagnosis today than ever before.
“Patients are being cured more often, they’re living longer, and a lot of cancers are being turned into a chronic disease,” Kalkanis says. “But the only way for that good outcome to happen is not through luck or standard therapy, it’s getting access to innovative, new, cutting-edge treatments, and the only way to do that is to make sure that you’ve gotten some various opinions, to know that you’re at a place that’s offering those advanced therapies.”
For more information about cancer treatment at Henry Ford or to make an appointment for a second opinion from one of our cancer specialists, visit henryford.com/cancer or call 1-888-777-4167.
Dr. Steven N. Kalkanis is a neurosurgeon and serves as chair of the Henry Ford Department of Neurosurgery, CEO of the Henry Ford Medical Group, and Senior Vice President and Chief Academic Officer of Henry Ford Health.