There are often different ways to look at the same information. What's more, even top-notch laboratories and doctors may miss something important or make a mistake.
It may feel like you're doubting your doctor’s judgment. So it seems hard to ask them about a second opinion. In reality, it's a request that doctors, especially cancer doctors, hear quite often. Many times, doctors welcome input from other experts to help them give the most accurate diagnosis and decide the best course of treatment.
What's a Second Opinion?
It's getting another doctor, or team of medical experts, to look at your test results and medical history and give their opinion on your stage of cancer. You might also ask their thoughts on a plan for treatment.
A second opinion can accomplish a number of things. It can:
- Confirm your original diagnosis and treatment plan
- Give you more detail about the type of breast cancer you have and stage it's in
- Offer different or additional treatment options
- Suggest a different diagnosis
- Recommend an alternate treatment plan
When to Get a Second Opinion
In general, if you’re going to get a second opinion, the sooner the better.
Though you may be worried about your diagnosis, there's usually no big risk to delay treatment for a week or so in order to make time to transfer records and consult other experts.
That said, another opinion may be useful at any point along the way. Even during or after your first round of treatment, a doctor can weigh in on the process so far and offer thoughts on how to proceed.
Common times to seek a second opinion during your breast cancer journey include:
After biopsy results. Your doctor calls them a pathology report. The biopsy is when the doctor takes a sample of the cancer tissue they think is cancerous from your breast to examine it under a microscope.
The pathology report gives a profile of your cancerous cells and the cells of nearby tissues. Any difference in opinion by the lab technician who does the test or the pathologist who interprets the results could make a difference in your diagnosis and the treatment approach your team chooses for you.
Before surgery. Having a procedure to treat your breast cancer can be a big step. There are lots of things for your team to consider before they take that step, including:
- Whether to try and shrink the tumor before surgery, chemotherapy, or hormone therapy
- How to interpret pictures of the inside of your breast from ultrasound, MRI, mammogram, and other imaging technology
- Deciding which type of surgery is best -- lumpectomy vs. mastectomy, for example
- Determining a course for breast reconstruction after surgery
As you create your post-surgery plan. This is likely to have some combination of chemotherapy, radiation, hormonal therapies, and targeted therapies. Your plan will depend on your doctor, your test results, your lifestyle, and your preferences. Once you make an initial plan, it could help to bring in another oncologist who specializes in breast cancer to go over it.
Will Insurance Cover a Second Opinion?
It’s always a good idea to check with your insurance provider first. Most insurance companies will pay for you to get a second opinion about your breast cancer diagnosis. In some cases, your insurance company may require it before they'll pay for treatment.
Some insurance companies demand that you use only doctors approved by them. Also be aware that just because insurance pays for another doctor to give a second opinion, it doesn’t mean they’ll pay for a new pathology report.
What You’ll Need
The doctor or medical team you use for your second opinion will need as much information as possible to make an assessment, including:
- A pathology report from a biopsy or a surgery
- Detailed reports of any surgeries
- Discharge summaries (documents made by your doctor when you leave the hospital)
- Treatment plan summaries
- A list of all medications and doses you take
You might have to call your doctor’s office and ask them to send records over to the team giving your second opinion. In some cases, you might be able to ask through an online “patient portal.” Portals can be confusing, so call your doctor if you have trouble with it. It may be a good idea to have copies of everything for yourself.