Metastatic Melanoma: 7 Reasons You Need a Second Opinion
You’ve been diagnosed with metastatic melanoma. You may feel a sense of urgency to start treatment immediately and forego a second opinion. But it’s OK to take a moment to breathe, and understand this: there’s usually time between your diagnosis and the start of treatment to see another doctor and confirm what you’ve learned from your primary health professional. Talking to more than one doctor can ease your mind, as well as help you sort out your options. Here are the major reasons to call a second pro, and how to go about it.
To Confirm Your Diagnosis
If your doctor is unsure about your diagnosis or the stage of your cancer, or if you’re uncertain that the diagnosis is correct, a second opinion is vital. It can bring needed clarity. A cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming, and by consulting a second doctor, you can confirm that your intended treatment is the right one, as well as answer any what-if questions you may have.
To Explore Your Treatment Options
Your doctor may have made treatment recommendations, but you might want to hear a different perspective. Knowing all your treatment options, and their pros and cons, can help you make informed decisions. Try talking to someone at a specialized cancer center to fill you in on the latest technology and research. Gathering as much info as you can, even if you end up with your original doctor for treatment, is integral to understanding the possibilities for your care, according to Erika Schwartz, M.D., a physician in New York City. “Write questions in advance, and talk about your fears around different treatments,” Dr. Schwartz says.
If Your Case is Not Typical
If you have a rare or unusual cancer, such as desmoplastic melanoma or acral lentiginous melanoma, you may want to talk to a doctor familiar with this type of cancer. Often, Dr. Schwartz notes, your doctor may take the initiative, referring you to a specialist for a second opinion. If they don't, ask for a referral!
If Your Insurance Company Requires It
Some health insurance companies actually require their members to get a second opinion before they will pay for certain treatments, such as major surgery. In medical and money matters, it's definitely best to be safe, so whatever your diagnosis, make a call to your carrier to see if a second (concurring) opinion is needed. Your bank account will thank you.
If You Want to Explore Clinical Trials
Clinical trials for metastatic melanoma offer a way to try new medications and treatments that aren't yet available to the general public. You may want to talk to a doctor at a facility that offers, or is involved in, clinical trials for metastatic melanoma. Tell your doctor if this is something you're interested in, and they'll be able to start the ball rolling.
What to Do When You and Your Doctor Don't Click
Sometimes you and your doc just don't gel. That isn’t to say they aren't capable, but you may feel uncomfortable for any number of reasons. One example? You may feel your doctor won’t listen to your concerns. If so, seek a second opinion. “A doctor-patient relationship requires a high degree of communication and honesty,” says Larry Altshuler, M.D., an internist at Cancer Treatment Centers of America, Tulsa, Oklahoma. “Sometimes, you just don’t click, and that’s OK,” he says. “The sooner you admit that’s the case, the sooner you can find the right doctor for you.”
If You Want to Talk to Someone who Specializes in Your Cancer Type
One of the top reasons to get a second opinion is that your doctor is not a specialist in your type of cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. While your first visit may have been with a general oncologist, you may benefit from getting the perspective of someone with deep experience in your type of cancer, or a doc who specializes in a specific ype of treatment. Might as well make a call.
How to Seek a Second Opinion
Talk to your doctor first (no, they shouldn’t be upset with you) and ask for recommendations for a second opinion. As Dr. Schwartz mentioned, a doctor might proactively suggest a second opinion, particularly if you should see someone who specializes in your type of cancer. Then call your insurance company and ask if you're limited to doctors in your network. Request a list of specialists in your area (or beyond, if you’re willing to travel). Next, contact a local cancer center that specializes in your type of cancer and ask for reccs. Or call a medical society or advocacy group for melanoma and ask which doctors in your area they recommend.
Documents to Bring with You to Your Second Opinion Visit
When you go to the appointment for your second opinion, bring along your medical records for the doctor to review your situation. Some documents you'll want with you include:
- List of all drugs and medications
- Copies of pathology reports
- Copies of operative reports
- Hospital discharge papers and summary of treatment
- Summary of doctor’s current treatment plan
How to Gather Those Documents
Prior to your second-opinion appointment, call your current doctor's office and request that your records are sent to the other doctor. You may need to contact the medical records department of the hospital where you had surgery for any discharge papers. You should also call your pharmacy and request that they print out a list of your current medications for you to bring to the appointment.
A Second Opinion Matters
Far from being a superficial effort to check off your list, hearing from another doctor can help alleviate your fears, confirm a treatment type is your most viable option, and/or convince you that your original doctor really is the best person to care for your case. Seek out a second opinion today to help receive the best treatment possible in your metastatic melanoma journey.