The Importance of Getting a Second Opinion After Being Diagnosed with Breast Cancer

Beth Brophy Health Guide
  • I’m a reporter. I like a lot of information. So, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer nearly 11 years ago, I got not one second opinion, but five, from leading cancer centers on the East Coast.

    Yes, it was difficult to schlep around to all those hospitals and confusing to sort through the different opinions, but I’ve never regretted it.

    Now a new study on breast cancer treatment reported in the New York Times this week has found that women diagnosed with breast cancer would do well to get a second opinion from a team of cancer specialists. (I doubt anyone will ever study the wisdom of getting six second opinions). The study, which is in the journal Cancer, found that a second opinion after an initial diagnosis led to a significant change in the recommended treatment in more than half the patients.
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    That sounds like a startling large percentage to me.

    The disagreements were all over the map--from the necessity of a mastectomy to the staging of the cancer. Of the 149 women studied, six were found to have no breast cancer at all. Those women must have been especially relieved that they got that second opinion.

    The study took place at the University of Michigan. The women in the study were all referred to a specialized cancer center, where multi-disciplinary teams called tumor boards, and consisting of oncologists, radiologists, surgeons, and nurses, looked at the patients’ biopsy slides, X-rays and the surgeon’s treatment recommendations.

    For 32 percent of the women, changes in treatment were suggested, based not on the radiology or pathology findings, but on varying interpretations of what the best care was. For 29 percent of the patients, the staging of the cancer was changed, which is key because staging assesses how aggressive the tumor is.

    For years patients with a serious illness have been told to seek a second opinion before they have surgery or undergo treatment. This new study underlines how crucial that advice really is for women with breast cancer. In fact, the next time someone raises her eyebrows when I tell her how many opinions I sought, I’m going to mention this study. In my opinion, when it comes to saving your own life, there’s no such thing as too much information.

Published On: December 07, 2006