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 National Cancer Institute (NCI) provides information about doctors who practice at NCI-designated cancer centers.
- The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) allows users to search physicians and their specialties at their member institutions.
- The American Medical Association (AMA) website offers a DoctorFinder option.
- The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) allows the public to search for member oncologists through its Cancer.net web site
- The American College of Surgeons (ACS) provides a list of surgeons who are ACS members or call 312-202-5236
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.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?
Information provided by the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, Inc. (“PanCAN”) is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or other health care services. PanCAN may provide information to you about physicians, products, services, clinical trials or treatments related to pancreatic cancer, but PanCAN does not recommend nor endorse any particular health care resource. In addition, please note that any personal information you provide to PanCAN’s associates during telephone and/or email communications may be stored and used to help PanCAN achieve its mission of assisting patients with, and finding cures and treatments for, pancreatic cancer. Stored constituent information may be used to inform PanCAN programs and activities. Information also may be provided in aggregate or limited formats to third parties to guide future pancreatic cancer research and treatment efforts. PanCAN will not provide personal directly identifying information (such as your name or contact information) to such third parties without your prior written consent unless required or permitted by law to do so.