You can go for a second opinion anytime after discussion of the disease with your current doctor. It makes sense to seek it before starting with any major therapy or medication. This is because a second opinion may change the procedures for diagnosis and you may be advised of other treatment options or to change the entire course of treatment.
It may take up to a few weeks to get second opinion from a good doctor but usually the delay does not obstruct the effectiveness of treatment that you go for. You simply need to check (with your current doctor) that your cancer is not late stage and it is fine to wait a little before starting the treatment.
Here are some of the common cases where breast cancer victims like to seek a second opinion. The conditions however of all patients are different and it is good to consult friends and family members too, before you arrive at a decision:
Breast cancer doctors ask you to go for a series of tests for the cancer and surrounding tissues. This is required to make a profile of how the cancer appears and behaves. This work is primarily done by a pathologist who looks at the tissue through microscope to give details about the diagnosis. Other reports are made as per specialized lab tests done on the tissue. It is on basis of these results that the oncologist or breast cancer treatment expert decides upon the surgery and therapies required for the concerned patient. Even a slight error or misinterpretation about the tissue by the pathologist or testing lab can change the course of treatment plan. Patients may like to go for another pathology opinion to ensure that they are moving in the right direction. Insurance company policies about second pathology report or any other second opinion should be checked individually.
Going for an invasive breast cancer surgery is a big decision and if your doctor suggests the surgery, you may like to seek a second opinion before opting for the procedure. Mammograms, ultrasound and MRIs play a prominent role in disclosing the spread and stage of breast cancer. You can consult another radiologist to see your image results and give an opinion. When you have options to undergo lumpectomy or a mastectomy surgery, it is wise to seek second opinion of another surgeon. Advice of a plastic surgeon can be taken if you need a major breast reconstruction treatment. Second opinion can also be taken when your current doctor advises you of therapies to shrink the tumor - chemotherapy or hormonal therapy- before the surgery to extract the tumor.
In some cases breast cancer patients also require treatments after the surgery. These subsume radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, and targeted therapies. The way these treatments are given varies as per the individual condition of the patient after the surgery. After the diagnosis of surgery results, you can seek a second opinion to decide upon the therapy that will work the best in your case.
If you feel a therapy is not working very well or there are major side effects on your general health, you can go for a second opinion even before completing the course of ongoing treatment. If your current doctor is unable to answer your queries or cannot deal with your health problems effectively, it is important to seek a second opinion and change the approach as required.
The treatment for breast cancer does last for a considerable time in most cases. If you already had a treatment and did not go for second opinion at any stage, it may still not be too late to get one. Another breast cancer specialist can be consulted to check your diagnosis reports, treatment plan and results. He/she might be able to give any additional advice if required for further improvement.
Remember, it should not be embarrassing for you to consult another doctor at any stage as mentioned above. It is not ‘rude’ to ask for second opinions and they do not really destroy patients’ relationships with their current doctors. Efficient and honest medical practitioners understand the anxiety of their patients and do not even mind referring them to other doctors for second opinions.