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Why you should get a second opinion on cancer

If you receive a cancer diagnosis, one of the first things you should do is ask for a second opinion.

Don’t worry about offending the physician who diagnosed you. In fact, you shouldn’t be surprised if your doctor suggests a second opinion before you ask.

“I would say that 75% of the time, I bring it up first,” said Ismael Shaukat, MD, a medical oncologist with OSF HealthCare. “Many times, patients are afraid they will insult their doctor by asking for a second opinion about diagnosis and treatment. But speaking for myself and my colleagues, we are never insulted by that.”

Doctors support a second opinion

In fact, physicians often want a second opinion as much as the patient.

Not all cancers are alike, nor are they always straightforward. They can be tricky and present themselves in different ways. Depending on the type, some are more complicated than others and require additional testing for the diagnosis to be certain.

A provider needs to put all the pieces of the physical exams, the screening test and imaging tests, like a CT scan, into a complete picture.

“Number one, I want to confirm my original diagnosis is correct,” Dr. Shaukat said. “Getting another perspective is good. Within our group, we bounce ideas off each other all the time.

“I might look at it one way, and someone else might look at it another. It’s not always about being right or wrong. It’s about getting a complete picture. If someone has a different opinion, we want a chance to reach out and discuss it.”

Increase comfort and confidence in your treatment plan

The same holds true when developing a plan for different types of cancer treatment.

If you are diagnosed with cancer, it’s normal to experience some fear and anxiety. You might feel overwhelmed by the barrage of information. Getting a second opinion on the diagnosis and treatment options can provide clarity and help reduce uncertainty, giving you peace of mind.

Dr. Shaukat stressed the importance of arming patients with as many resources as possible to battle the disease. People with cancer need to know their care team is confident that they have identified the cancerous cells and what treatment will minimize the side effects.

It’s about empowering you to ask questions, weigh options and make good decisions. The more engaged you become in the process, your comfort and confidence increase.

“We want to do what’s best for the patient. That’s always our intent,” Dr. Shaukat said. “We want the patient to have complete confidence that we are doing the right thing, and having a second opinion helps that, too. If the patient is second-guessing themselves, it makes treatment difficult.

“A patient’s comfort level is vital in cancer treatment. If the patient is confident and comfortable, they will have a positive outlook they can feed into – and patients do better with a positive outlook.”

Once you are confident of the diagnosis, you can access online resources provided by organizations like the American Cancer Society and National Cancer Institute.

Take your time and ask for guidance

Get a second opinion.

Find an oncologist near you.

While moving quickly to fight your cancer is essential, that doesn’t mean you have to rush. Every decision regarding your treatment doesn’t have to be made before you leave your doctor’s office.

Start by seeking a second opinion, and find the best options available. Take time to ask questions, seek advice and think about your next step. Most medical records are digital or can easily be transferred so that another provider can reach a medical opinion.

Where you can go for a second opinion is likely to be restricted, at least to some degree, by your insurance company’s contracts.

“But we know who your insurance will allow you to see, and we can help you with that,” Dr. Shaukat said. “We will let you know your choices and send them your diagnosis information. Then, all you have to do is answer the phone when they call and set your appointment. It’s a fairly streamlined process.


Last Updated: March 14, 2024

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About Author: Kirk Wessler

After being a writer for OSF HealthCare for three years, Kirk Wessler retired in January 2022. A Peoria native and graduate of Bradley University, Kirk's experience included working for newspapers in Missouri, Texas and the Peoria Journal Star.

Kirk and his wife, Mary Frances, have five sons, four daughters-in-law and nine grandchildren. Kirk plans to spend his retirement on the golf course, mastering the guitar and traveling.

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Categories: Cancer