Considering a second opinion

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It is important to feel empowered and prepared to make informed decisions regarding treatment or any other aspect related to a pancreatic cancer diagnosis. Getting a second opinion is an important part of the pancreatic cancer journey. Patients who are confident in their doctors will feel more content with their healthcare experiences.

Why get a second opinion?
Just as it is normal to shop around for a house or car, it is acceptable for patients to seek multiple opinions to safeguard their health. A second opinion provides different perspectives and serves as a quality check. It is one way to confirm the pancreatic cancer diagnosis and to verify that all available treatment options have been offered and explained.

It is the patient’s right to feel comfortable with the doctor who is responsible for his or her care. A doctor should not be insulted if a patient wishes to seek alternate opinions. In fact, most doctors encourage it and can even offer names of other doctors to consult.

When to get a second opinion
There is no wrong time to seek a second opinion. Pancreatic cancer patients often find second opinions useful to confirm their diagnosis and decide on a treatment plan.

To confirm the specific pancreatic cancer diagnosis, a second opinion from a gastroenterologist may be useful. A gastroenterologist is a medical doctor who specializes in the function and disorders of the digestive system, including the pancreas.

Once the diagnosis has been validated, a patient wants to find the best available treatment. Since doctors differ in their treatment styles, a second opinion can provide more complete information about both aggressive and conservative treatment options. Chemotherapy or other anti-cancer drugs may be prescribed and administered by a doctor who specializes in treating cancer, called a medical oncologist.

If surgery is an option, a pancreatic cancer patient should look closely at the surgeon’s experience. Studies indicate that surgeons who perform large numbers of pancreatic surgeries have better outcomes.

How to find a doctor for a second opinion
It is important that a second opinion be obtained from a doctor who has experience treating people with pancreatic cancer. For pancreatic cancer patients who live in rural areas, travel may be necessary. While local hospitals can provide quality care, the physicians may not have as much experience in caring for people with pancreatic cancer. Large cancer centers employ more doctors who are familiar with the most up to date pancreatic cancer treatments and research.

In addition to asking a doctor to recommend someone for a second opinion, there are many resources to find pancreatic cancer specialists around the country:

  • The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s Patient and Liaison Services (PALS) program maintains a list of pancreatic cancer specialists around the country. While PALS Associates cannot recommend one doctor over another, they can provide callers with the names and contact information for doctors who see a large number of pancreatic cancer patients each year.
  • Local hospitals often have patient referral services that provide lists of specialists at a specific hospital.
  • The patient’s insurance provider can provide names of cancer specialists who are covered in their network of doctors.

Remote Second Opinion Programs
If a patient is limited by travel, second opinion services exist that do not require an in-person meeting. Remote second opinion services may not be covered by the patient’s insurance company. If you are interested in more details about these programs please contact the PALS program toll free at 877-272-6226 or by email at pals@pancan.org.

Considerations when seeking a second opinion
Second opinions are a normal part of cancer management. Patients and caregivers should not be concerned about hurting the feelings of the primary physician by seeking another opinion. All specialists are used to patients asking for second opinions. No specialist should, and very few do, feel offended when patients or their relatives make this request. Second opinions can be helpful to specialists by confirming their advice or alerting them to additional treatment options.

Second opinions can be helpful to patients in several ways. If the doctor giving the second opinion gives the same advice as the first specialist, then the patient gains confidence and trust in both doctors allowing them to choose the specialist they feel more comfortable with. If the advice is different, it provides the patient with more treatment options and the ability to make an informed decision before proceeding with their treatment plan.

Some insurance plans require a second opinion. Others only pay for a second opinion if the patient requests it. Patients may seek a second opinion even if the appointment is not covered by health insurance if they can manage the cost.

Questions to Ask Pancreatic Cancer Specialists

  • What treatment(s) do you recommend? Why?
  • How frequently will treatment be received?
  • For how long will treatment last?
  • What are the benefits of this treatment?
  • What are the benefits and risks of each of my treatment options?
  • What is the objective of this treatment?
  • What are the potential side effects?
  • How likely are they to occur?
  • If I experience side effects, for how long will they last?
  • Could the side effects associated with this treatment interrupt the treatment schedule?
  • What medication(s) will be prescribed to help manage side effects?
  • Do these medications have additional side effects?
  • How can I contact you in case of an emergency or if I have further concerns?

 

The information and services provided by the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, Inc. are for informational purposes only. The information and services are not intended to be substitutes for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you are ill, or suspect that you are ill, see a doctor immediately! The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network does not recommend nor endorse any specific physicians, products or treatments even though they may be mentioned on this site. In addition, please note that any personal information you provide to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s associates during telephone and/or email consultations may be stored in a secure database to assist the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, Inc. in providing you with the best service possible. Portions of the constituent data stored in this database may be used to inform future programs and services of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, Inc., and may be provided in aggregate form to third parties to guide future pancreatic cancer research and treatment efforts. The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, Inc. will not provide personal identifying information (such as your name or contact information) to third parties without your advanced written consent. 120723