The New York Times recently published an article written by a breast cancer survivor who was advocating that women who’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer seek second opinions about their treatment options. The author, Elizabeth Bennett, began her breast cancer journey when an acute pain in her breast sent her to the emergency room.
Her General Practitioner recommended a well-known surgical oncologist, who diagnosed her with noninvasive ductal carcinoma in situ, or DCIS. The oncologist recommended a double mastectomy because Elizabeth had a history of breast cancer on both sides of her family.
While Elizabeth immediately liked and trusted this surgical oncologist, she still wondered if she should get a second opinion. After all, she reasoned, we seek second opinions or bids for a construction or plumbing project, so why shouldn’t we when it comes to our health?
She worried that seeking a second opinion might offend her surgical oncologist. But a friend who was also a reconstructive plastic surgeon told her, “You don’t want a doctor who doesn’t like that you’re getting a second opinion. She should encourage it.”
Her General Practitioner also encouraged her to get a second opinion, if only for peace of mind, and recommended another highly-acclaimed surgical oncologist. The second oncologist suspected there was more than DCIS involved, and ordered more biopsies. As he suspected, in addition to the DCIS, there was also a small but aggressive, invasive Her2-positive tumor outside the milk ducts.
Fortunately, there was a targeted therapy to treat a Her2 positive tumor, but the FDA had approved it only for use before surgery. After much consideration, and after visiting three more oncologists, Elizabeth felt reassured that the second oncologist’s recommendations for treatment would more effectively eradicate her breast cancer.
Her story is just one of many that points to the potential benefit of considering a second opinion when it comes to your breast cancer treatment plan. And it doesn’t stop there. Second or third opinions can be helpful when choosing a surgeon, but also when choosing a medical oncologist, plastic surgeon, and radiation oncologist.
A second opinion can help ensure that you’ll be getting the latest therapy, with the best chance of effectively treating the type of breast cancer you have. It can take up to a few weeks to get a second opinion, but in most cases this delay isn’t a problem and won’t interfere with the effectiveness of your treatment. Just be sure to confirm with your doctor that waiting a bit to start treatment is OK.
On the other hand, if you are completely comfortable with your original physician’s assessment and the treatment plan you’ve come up with together, you may not need and may not be interested in seeking a second opinion. Dr. Marisa Weiss, chief medical officer of Breastcancer.org, says, “I think it’s fine to not seek a second opinion as long as your doctor has the expertise and judgment that you need. I would verify things by going online, researching your physician, and talking to your physician’s other patients. Just don’t be passive about it.”
However, If you have any hesitations, questions, or need more peace of mind, seek another opinion and consider asking the following questions to start:
- Does your physician have special training, such as a fellowship, in breast cancer treatment?
- What range of specialties does the doctor have expertise in, such as plastic surgery, radiation therapy, breast pathology, genetics, medical oncology and radiology?
- What experience, education, and training does he or she have with the latest therapies for your type of cancer?
- Is your physician committed to breast cancer treatment? Is your physician a member of a professional breast cancer organization, such as the American Society of Breast Surgeons, the American Society of Breast Disease, the Americans Society of Clinical Oncology, amongst others??
If you’re facing breast cancer, know that it can be helpful, reassuring, and even critically important to get another opinion before you make decisions about treatment. Sometimes you need a second opinion from a Breast Surgical Oncologist, or from a Medical Oncologist, or sometimes from a Radiation Oncologist. For more questions and information, the website www.breastcancer.org has several links for understanding and navigating the process of getting a second opinion.
If you’d like to get a second opinion on your breast cancer surgery and treatment plan, consult with Dr. Aaron Margulies. Committed to serving breast cancer patients through his solo practice in Breast Surgical Oncology and General Surgery, Dr. Margulies has offices at Tennova Turkey Creek Medical Center in West Knoxville, at Tennova North Knoxville Medical Center in Powell, at Jefferson Memorial Hospital, and in Morristown. His extensive research and expertise have distinguished him as a leader in the field. To learn more about Dr. Margulies’ compassionate surgical care approach visit www.aaronmd.com or call (865) 692-16