Second Opinions May Lead to Treatment Changes

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A new study found that a second opinion from a group of breast cancer experts was different in some way from the original treatment recommendations given to women with breast cancer more than half the time. Sometimes the diagnosis was different because of a different interpretation of a mammogram or biopsy. Sometimes the treatment plan was different because of a different opinion on when a particular treatment should be given.

These variations in diagnosis and treatment opinions may reflect true differences of medical interpretation. But bad medical judgment or a doctor's not knowing about new treatment options and research also can lead to recommendations that are not the best for you. Dealing with a breast cancer diagnosis is scary and overwhelming. Worrying about whether the diagnosis and treatment plan are right only adds to your anxiety.

There are a number of steps you can take to make sure that your diagnosis and decisions about treatment options are right for you:

  • Don't be shy about asking for one or more second opinions. You might feel uncomfortable doing this, especially if you have great confidence in your doctor. But don't worry. Doctors are very familiar with second opinions. Insurance companies sometimes require them before certain treatments. Many doctors welcome a second opinion since it can reinforce their recommendations.
  • Make sure that all of the doctors who are or will be caring for you are talking to each other. Surgeon, pathologist, medical oncologist, and radiation oncologist all can be members of your care team, and you should expect them to be working together to decide what's best for you. Don't be shy about this. Insist that your whole team agree about your diagnosis and treatment. If there are differences of opinion, tell your doctors you want to know about them. Don't hesitate to ask for opinions from other experts.
  • Do your own homework about your diagnosis and treatment options. breastcancer.org exists to help you learn about breast cancer. The more you know, the more you can participate in your own care. Don't be afraid to ask questions and to bring up treatment options that your doctors may have not mentioned.

You are the most important member of your treatment team. Every woman is different and every breast cancer treatment plan will be different. By talking to your doctors and working together, you can all decide what is best for YOU.

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