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Four Reasons to Get a Second Opinion for Leukemia

If you are diagnosed with leukemia, your first instinct might be to start treatment as soon as possible. But, it may be best to step back for a moment and get a second opinion about your diagnosis and treatment plan first.

It’s often recommended that patients see a second physician and explore additional treatment options for a cancer diagnosis before moving forward. Doing so is especially important for leukemia—a complex blood cancer with various subtypes that respond best to different treatments.

Here are four reasons why seeking a second opinion for a leukemia diagnosis may be beneficial:

1. Diagnosing Leukemia Can Be Tricky: There are more than 10 different types of leukemia, each with its own characteristics and treatment options. It is recommended that a hematopathologist (a medical professional who specializes in diagnosing blood cancers and disorders) reviews your test results to make sure you receive an accurate diagnosis. This is key for identifying the best treatment options for your specific disease.

Hematopathologists are not available at all medical centers and are most likely to be found at National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated comprehensive cancer centers.

2. Each Type of Leukemia Is Treated Differently: Common leukemia treatments include chemotherapy and bone marrow transplant (BMT). But not every patient needs both, and some patients need other regimens altogether. The specific course of treatment for each patient is determined by their diagnosis and clinical features, so it’s best to explore all treatment options available to you from different institutions (including clinical trials) to find the right fit.

3. BMT Isn’t Available at All Healthcare Centers: If a patient requires a BMT after chemotherapy, it’s important that they receive this treatment at a center with vast experience and recognized survival outcomes. Not only are there national standards for BMT programs and specific organizations that are recognized for excelling in this area, but also not all healthcare centers offer this advanced treatment option.

4. If You Do Need a BMT, Experience Matters: A BMT is a major medical procedure, so it’s worth seeking out a team of specialists who’ve performed many of them and are recognized for their outcomes.

But that’s not all. Lower-risk transplants that go smoothly require a few weeks of recovery time at the hospital, while more complicated transplants can pose serious health risks that can persist for years. Although these risks can be managed, it’s important for you to select a team that you feel comfortable with and that offers extensive support programs for you and your family before, during, and after your initial transplant. It can be a difficult road, and having a care team that is invested in your success is a key part of your recovery and outcomes.

Seeking a Second Opinion

Because leukemia is so complex, it is recommended that one of the opinions you receive is from an NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center that specializes in blood cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Experts at these institutions see many patients with various types of leukemia every day, so they’re able to make precise diagnoses and recommend the most effective treatment plan for each individual. These centers also take a multidisciplinary approach to care, which involves feedback and consideration from specialists in many different areas of cancer and supportive care.

If you are interested in seeking a second opinion for your leukemia diagnosis, it is best to start by talking to your current physician. Most doctors will encourage you to feel comfortable with your treatment plan and available options before moving forward. They may even be able to give you a referral. 

If you’re unsure how to start the conversation, a simple and straightforward approach is best. Try saying: “I’m thinking of getting a second opinion. Can you recommend someone?”

If you would rather seek a second opinion on your own, you can start by researching NCI-designated comprehensive cancer centers in your area online or by asking friends, family members, or mentors for their help or recommendations.

Read more about leukemia diagnosis and treatment at Fox Chase