Why should I consider getting a second opinion when I have been diagnosed with breast cancer?

When you have cancer, getting the right treatment the first time is very important. A second opinion can help to ensure that you'll be getting the latest therapy with the best chance of effectively treating the type of cancer you have.

When abnormal tissue is found during a mammogram or an exam, a small sample of tissue is collected, usually by using a core needle for biopsy of the suspicious area. After the sample is removed, it is sent to a lab for testing. If the test results indicate cancer, you may want to seek a second opinion to confirm the diagnosis and obtain treatment.

How can I get a second opinion when I have been diagnosed with breast cancer?

First, ask your doctor for a referral to a breast cancer specialist, or call hospitals or medical centers that treat cancer.

The National Cancer Institute has named some centers as providing state-of-the-art, up-to-date cancer treatment. You can get a list of these centers by contacting the Cancer Information Service at 1.800.4CANCER (1.800.422.6237). Get the names of several doctors and hospitals that offer the newest, most effective treatments and have the most experience in treating breast cancer.

When seeking another opinion, you will want the doctor making the second opinion to make sure that first diagnosis is correct. He or she will be able to confirm that the diagnosis was made by an institution experienced in identifying different types of cancers and disease stages. It is important to bring in all your medical records, X-rays and pathology slides from the other hospital when you go for your second opinion appointment.

When you have cancer, getting the right treatment the first time is very important. You will want to ask the second opinion doctor to look over the treatment plan to ensure it is the latest therapy with the best chance of effectively treating the type of cancer you have.

What questions should I ask about the hospital when getting a second opinion on a breast cancer diagnosis?

General

  • Are the physicians who treat and diagnose breast cancer board-certified?
  • Is the hospital accredited by The Joint Commission?
  • Has the breast center met accreditation standards through the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers (NAPBC)?
  • Has the hospital been positively and consistently recognized for medical excellence and leadership?

Experience

  • How many women are diagnosed and treated for breast cancer at this hospital each year?
  • How many mammograms are performed each year?
  • How many ultrasound-guided and stereotactic breast biopsies are performed each year?
  • How many surgical procedures to treat breast cancer are performed each year?
  • How many women have radiation therapy or chemotherapy for breast cancer at this center?

Range of services

  • Is help available in a full range of specialties, such as plastic surgery, radiation therapy, breast pathology, genetics, medical oncology and radiology?

Participation in research and education

  • Is the hospital associated with a teaching program?
  • Does the hospital have fully accredited residency training programs in specialties related to breast cancer care?
  • Does the hospital conduct basic research or clinical trials related to breast cancer?

Patient satisfaction

  • How satisfied are hospitalized patients with their experience at this facility?
  • How satisfied are outpatients with their experience at this facility?
  • Is there a program to help patients and their families with the difficulties that may arise during a hospital stay?

Outcome indicators

  • What is the infection rate following breast cancer surgery at this center?
  • What is the average length of stay in the hospital for breast cancer surgery and for breast reconstruction?
  • What percentage of women receives breast-conserving surgery (lumpectomy or partial mastectomy)?
  • What is the center’s success rate for breast reconstruction?

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