Women's Health

Ovarian Cancer: Why a Second Opinion Is Essential

Ovarian Cancer: Why a Second Opinion Is Essential

You know how crucial early detection is when it comes to ovarian cancer. Eighty-five percent of the time when women are diagnosed they are at a late stage and have a decreased likelihood of survival.

The fact that this diagnosis needs to come quickly is the first area of concern. There isn’t much time to sit around and stew over whether your doctor’s assessment of your condition is correct.

Women would naturally be in a hurry to get going on treatment and not become a statistic. Many times, they will place faith in their first doctor and go with that person’s choices.

Even if you act quickly to get a diagnosis, the screening tests aren’t perfect and may miss something. The tests can include a pelvic exam, a transvaginal sonography (ultrasound) or a CA-125 blood test. The only way to confirm that it is ovarian cancer is to get a biopsy, according to the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition.

Diagnosis can be complex

Let’s say you got an incorrect diagnosis at the beginning stages. This would put you behind in getting effective treatment right off the bat. Conversely, you don’t want to get unnecessary treatment.

Misdiagnosis occurs more frequently than people realize. Doctors are human. It’s estimated than 10 to 20 percent of medical cases are misdiagnosed. One study estimated that fatal errors in the diagnostic process in U.S. intensive care units equal breast cancer deaths per year, in the mid 40,000’s.

Even doctors themselves can and have been misdiagnosed by colleagues, resulting in negative consequences.

The leading cause of malpractice litigation is diagnostic errors. The Veteran’s Administration hospital in Texas estimated that physicians misdiagnose 500,000 times out of 500 million each year in the United States. (Kaiser Health News, Doctors’ Diagnostic Errors Are Often Not Mentioned But Can Take A Serious Toll May 6, 2013.)

A study in 2009 encouraged doctors to anonymously report diagnostic errors so an accurate tally could be made. In 583 diagnostic mistakes that were reported, 28 percent had life-threatening outcomes. This report was funded by the Federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Many times, doctors may not be aware they made a wrong diagnosis, particularly if the patient gets a second opinion. According to studies, diagnostic errors occur most often in primary-care settings.

It’s not just the possibility of diagnostic error that should encourage you to get a second opinion. It’s the complex nature of the disease, the quick progression and the serious nature of the treatment options.

If you have any lingering doubts or just want to confirm your doctor’s opinion, you should get a second opinion. That way you and your family can be at peace about having explored all options. Being more informed can only help you.

Treatment plans vary

Aside from diagnosis obviously being very important, your treatment plan can make or break your success. Two common treatment options, chemotherapy and surgery, should not be taken lightly. Though time is of the essence, it is important to have the facts of your condition and get the best treatment plan for you.

Doctors can only offer what treatments are available in their own institution, and don’t necessarily personalize their approach to your condition.

Some people do research and conclude that their doctor has not had an opportunity to keep up with the latest research, so seek one that has an alternate knowledge base.

Each doctor has had a different educational background in varied decades of medicine. They also have each treated unique sets of patients during their careers, which gives them unique perspectives, skills and insights.

So, to assume that each can know all wouldn’t make sense.

There are also many clinical trials, and each doctor can’t know about all of them. So, it is possible to become part of a clinical trial which would really work for you, if you find out about it.

Also, if you live in a rural area, or did not get a treatment plan at a major medical facility, you may be missing out on certain treatment options available elsewhere.

If your first doctor wasn’t specifically a cancer expert, such as a gynecologic oncologist, there may definitely be reason to get a second opinion. A specialist will have more experience and expertise with your specific illness.

It is even possible to get a second opinion after surgery, during treatment or if you are having a recurrence of cancer. You may feel enmeshed with your first doctor at that point, and think you need to ‘stick with the program.’ You can always consult with a new doctor.

If two opinions differ vastly, you may wish to get a third opinion if possible.

The second opinion

When you go to your second opinion doctor’s appointment, you should have copies of your scans and medical reports. You can ask for copies of reports every time you go to the doctor.

When you go to your doctor’s appointments, it would be beneficial to bring someone with you if possible. Hearing information and taking it all in when your future is at stake can make it hard to focus on what’s being said. If you bring a supportive person, they could help with asking questions and remembering what the doctor said.

The new doctor should review:

  • Pathology report (how the cancer looks under the microscope),
  • The extent of cancer
  • Your physical condition
  • The proposed treatment

Many people are concerned with speaking up to their doctor about it, and don’t want to offend him or her. Second opinions are very common, so there is no need to be worried about it. Any doctor concerned about your health will be open to having you look into fresh assessments.

There are always ways to word things that will make you feel better and less awkward about it. They do realize it is your life that you are trying to protect, and would probably do the same thing. You could say, “I like to get different perspectives on all my medical issues,” or “I like to be as informed as possible by talking to multiple people about my condition.”

Some insurance companies require a second opinion. You could always use that as a reason to let your doctor know you are going to seek additional information in the form of another opinion.

Some people get many opinions, to fully educate themselves. Of course, not everyone has the resources to do this. You can learn a lot by talking to various people and doctors.

Many institutions actually advertise online in an effort to be your second opinion choice. So, it is a common practice.

There exist second opinion options which are entirely online, some of which are free. While this might not seem terribly personal, many people swear by the fact that they’ve been helped by them.

While you may be receiving more personalized care in person, to assume that a doctor will always recommend what’s best for you as an individual, may be false. While well meaning, they may not mention treatments they don’t personally provide.

Taking charge of your health

Not hearing about all possible treatment options limits the information and resources you are working with. You have to take responsibility for your own life and not put it in one individual’s hands.

It can be overwhelming on top of everything going on to consider looking into another opinion. It could be crucial to your health and life though. Take everything one small step at a time. Be your own advocate.