Getting an oncology second opinion is relatively straight forward. How you go about this needs some careful consideration as it may have a negative effect on your cancer care or cancer prognosis.
Probably the easiest method is to ask your cancer specialist to refer you to another cancer specialist. Your cancer specialist is most likely to know who is most qualified to review your case. Although this is the easiest method it needs careful consideration the following reasons. There is no guarantee your cancer specialist will send you to the most appropriate doctor to review your case. They could just send you to someone they know or trained with. If this is the case, this doctor is likely to share the same approach to cancer medicine as they do. They are also likely to refer you to someone local or even at the same hospital. Although this may be most convenient for you, it may not be the best second opinion. The trust between yourself and your cancer specialist may be effected by asking for a second opinion. Although every cancer specialist wants you to be happy with the treatment plan, at a sub-conscious level the doctor patient relationship may be effected. Most importantly asking for a second opinion in this way may affect your prognosis as it may cause delays in you receiving your cancer treatment. There are very strict guidelines as to time scales from initial referral, diagnosis and treatment. Sometimes after the patient has had their second opinion, the cancer has developed or spread and the treatment can turn from radical (curative) to palliative.
You can also ask your GP to refer you to another cancer specialist. This is also fairly straight forward, but again has some disadvantages so needs careful consideration. The GP is unlikely to know the best cancer specialist to send you to. If you are going to ask your GP for a second opinion referral, then it is best you do your own research to find who you would like to be referred to. You could then ask the GP to refer you to a specific specialist. How you approach the research will be challenging. Even if you find a doctor who you believe is ‘the best’ they may not accept or have the capacity in their busy schedule to see another patient. Therefore, if you do choose this route then take a couple of options to your GP to avoid disappointment. Like with the above option, there is a real risk that delays will occur in your treatment pathway that may affect your prognosis.
Getting a private second opinion from the leading doctors in the country is a sensible approach, but you will of course have to pay for this. The advantage is that they will know who is considered the leading doctor treating your type of cancer. They will also be able to give you independent information on every aspect of your treatment so far and what options are available to you, going forward to the future. Some services will provide you with information regarding clinical trials that you may be eligible for and even search for trials internationally. Some second opinion services will also supply you with the information you were given in the consultation that you can take away the same day.
The 4th option is not to get a second opinion. You may be happy with the treatment plan proposed by your cancer specialist. Most cancer patients are discussed in a multi-disciplinary meeting (MDT) so it is likely that you will offered treatment that conforms to national guidelines.
Whatever decision you make will be the right decision as long as you have given it adequate thought.