When considering how best to treat pancreatic cancer, two minds are better than one, which is why getting a second opinion on your diagnosis is so important to your treatment plan. Getting a new set of eyes to examine your condition can help you and your family members figure out the best treatment plan for you and find a doctor you feel comfortable with. All of these things are vital to help you get through treatment. So let’s talk about the value of a second opinion, how you can go about getting one, and what you should know before going in for that appointment.
Why Get a Second Opinion When Facing Pancreatic Cancer?
Before we jump into discussing how to request a second opinion, it’s important to know exactly what you are asking for. According to Loyola Medicine, a second opinion refers to simply requesting that another medical professional take a second look at your condition. It can give you a “fresh interpretation,” according to Loyola, which can help you better understand your diagnosis and treatment options.
A second opinion not only can provide clarity but can also make you feel more confident about taking on your pancreatic cancer journey. The first and most important thing a second opinion can do is give you a sense of security when it comes to your diagnosis. According to City of Hope, confirming your diagnosis and double checking the disease and stage not only helps you plan your treatment plan, but it can also give you peace of mind. You won’t have to wonder if there was a possible other answer or other avenue you could have taken, which will help you feel confident about your treatments moving forward.
Asking another medical professional for a second opinion also gives you a chance to communicate with another doctor and determine whether or not you want to work with them in the future. Assembling a healthcare team is essential for receiving quality care, and being comfortable with your doctors will be an extremely important part of your treatment plan. The American Cancer Society recommends that patients should definitely seek a second opinion if they feel their doctor is not addressing their diagnosis appropriately, is not a specialist on the disease, or has offered them a variety of different treatment plans.
Second opinions also give you a chance to look into a new location for care. The American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO) states that part of getting a second opinion is about figuring out where you want to go for treatments. The professional you see may be affiliated with a hospital that is too far away to feasibly go to routinely, or you may be looking to switch to a new treatment program that is only available in a certain area. The ASCO states that there are pros and cons to different hospitals that you should explore when getting a second opinion. For example, you may want to go to a local hospital that has supportive resources within your community, or you may want to go to a larger hospital to have a chance to be enrolled in clinical trials. If you are considering undergoing the Whipple procedure, we highly recommend going to a high-volume center with more resources to help you through the procedure. Remember, getting a second opinion is about making you feel comfortable and informed; and location is just as big a consideration as the medical professionals you will work with.
How Do I Find a Doctor I Can Trust?
Seeking a second opinion means finding a new doctor that you can trust. According to Loyola Medicine, the best person to ask for a new doctor is your current physician. They recommend that whenever possible, it’s best to choose to see a specialist, especially one that is independent from your current hospital and has little affiliation with your current doctor, just to ensure you are getting an unbiased opinion. According to Loyola, your physician will likely recommend someone who has a similar high level of experience with pancreatic cancer.
It’s important to realize that your doctor will not take offense to you asking for a second opinion. The ASCO assures patients that it is a common part of the medical field and doctors are trained to maintain professional courtesy. City of Hope recommends that no matter if you ask your doctor for a recommendation or not, you should still inform them that you are seeking a second opinion. They state that it is important to remain open with any doctors you speak to about other professionals you have seen to maintain a positive patient/doctor relationship.
The American Cancer Society suggests several different ways to open the conversation with your current doctor, including the following:
- “Before we start treatment, I’d like to get a second opinion. Will you help me with that?”
- “If you had my type of cancer, who would you see for a second opinion?”
- “I’m thinking of getting a second opinion. Can you recommend someone?”
For whatever reason, if you cannot ask your doctor for a recommendation, there are plenty of other places to look for a second opinion. The ASCO suggests looking into the closest hospitals, patient advocacy groups, and Medicare.gov’s database for possible recommendations.
If you are concerned about the time getting a second opinion may take, know that most pancreatic cancer patients have plenty of time to go through this process. According to a study published in the National Library of Medicine, pancreatic cancer patients should seek treatment within six weeks of diagnosis, so you do have some time to get another professional opinion. Taking the time to get a quality recommendation means a greater sense of security, peace of mind, and confidence in the long run.
Getting the Most Out of a Second Opinion
To get the most out of your second opinion visit, it’s best to be prepared. After getting a recommendation, the next step is to look into whether or not your insurance company will cover a second opinion visit. According to Loyola Medicine, this is a key step, along with making sure the specialist you are seeing also takes your insurance. Some companies request you get a second opinion before starting treatment, but it is best to know how this visit factors into your finances before proceeding.
According to the American Cancer Society, you must send your medical records to the new specialist before your visit. You can request these copies through your doctor’s office, or sometimes they are available online. The American Cancer Society suggests that you have a personal copy and additional copies of the following:
- If you have had a biopsy, a copy of your pathology reports.
- If you had surgery, a copy of your operative report AND pathology reports
- If you were hospitalized due to your pancreatic cancer diagnosis, a copy of the discharge summary
- A summary of your doctor’s current treatment plan or the plan they gave you as an option
- A list of all your medications, their doses, and when you take them
Loyola Medicine recommends double-checking with the new office to make sure the new specialist received your records.
If you are feeling nervous about your appointment, The American Cancer Society suggests you bring a friend or family member to the appointment. They can act as a second set of ears: writing things down and asking questions you may have forgotten about. If you are going by yourself to the appointment, City of Hope has a list of questions you can bring to make sure you are getting the most out of your visit.
After your visit, The American Cancer Society recommends taking the new information from the second appointment back to your first doctor to discuss the new opinion. They have a list of tips to help you make sense of the second opinion and how you want to proceed with treatment.
According to Loyola, other things to consider after getting a second opinion include weighing the pros and cons of treatment plans and each doctor’s approach. Discussing these topics with a medical professional is the best way to get a clearer picture of the path you want to take to treat your pancreatic cancer.
Getting a second opinion can only help you.
A second opinion is a tool you can utilize as a pancreatic cancer patient to help you find a way forward through your diagnosis. Most importantly, it can help you proceed confidently with treatment. If you have recently been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and are looking for more information about what to do moving forward, please click here for Project Purple’s New Pancreatic Cancer Patient Checklist.