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Practical advice for getting second opinions

Bob Riter is the retired Executive Director of the Cancer Resource Center. His articles about living with cancer appeared regularly in the Ithaca Journal and on OncoLink. He can be reached at bobriter@gmail.com.

A collection of Bob’s columns, When Your Life is Touched by Cancer: Practical Advice and Insights for Patients, Professionals, and Those Who Care, is available in bookstores nationwide and through online retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. All royalties from the sale of the book come to the Cancer Resource Center.

A woman recently diagnosed with cancer stopped by our office to say that she’s heard that it’s important to obtain second opinions from major cancer centers and to assemble a team of experts to provide her treatment.

She asked, “How the hell do I do that?”

Cancer guidebooks are full of grandiose suggestions like “assemble a team of experts,” but most people don’t know where to begin. In addition, people newly diagnosed with cancer are often busy with appointments and emotionally frazzled. They don’t have the time nor the energy to do what the guidebooks suggest.

Here’s the simplified version:

If you’d like a second opinion, ask your local doctors for their recommendations. It’s a common and reasonable question that they should be able to answer. Their office staffs can also help make the arrangements.

It’s a good idea to get copies of your CT, MRI, PET and other scans and take them with you when you go out of town for a second opinion, even if those files were sent electronically in advance.

If you’d rather not ask your physician for a referral, you can search on-line for major cancer centers that have special expertise in your type of cancer. You can call them directly and set up an appointment. A local cancer support organization such as the Cancer Resource Center can help you identify possibilities.

Check with your insurance company. Some companies provide terrific coverage for second opinions and treatment at major cancer centers that they specify.

As for getting that team of experts, my advice is to get doctors you like and with whom you are comfortable.

Follow your gut instincts. Cancer treatment is usually a long process filled with uncertainty. You want doctors you trust.

When people are debating options such as being treated locally or at a major center, I always ask them which one lets them sleep better at night. That’s usually the right choice for them.


Reprinted with permission of the Ithaca Journal.

Click here for all of Bob’s columns

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