Radiation Therapy: Getting a Second Opinion
Radiation is a highly effective therapy that is used to treat many types of cancer, but it’s also a very complex treatment. That’s why if you are diagnosed with cancer and radiation therapy is recommended, you should consider getting a second opinion before starting treatment.
“I’m a huge proponent of second opinions for cancer treatment,” said Shelly Hayes, MD, a radiation oncologist and Director of Fox Chase Cancer Center Buckingham. “Especially when you’re newly diagnosed. If you’re trying to do your due diligence and seek out treatment options, getting more than one opinion is recommended.”
And, even if your initial cancer treatment plan doesn’t call for radiation therapy, it’s still wise to get a second opinion before starting treatment. Your second opinion may reveal that radiation therapy is a good option for you.
The Importance of a Second Opinion
Radiation isn’t a one-size-fits-all treatment. There are many different types of radiation and different ways of delivering it—both internally and externally. It’s important for patients to make sure that they’re aware of all the radiation options they are a candidate for and that their treatment plan is tailored to their particular needs and diagnosis.
For instance, some brain tumors may be treated with stereotactic radiosurgery, a precise form of high-dose radiation delivered with pinpoint accuracy. There are many ways to deliver this type of radiation. Gamma knife is one option; however, it entails pinning a metal headframe onto a patient’s skull to immobilize it during treatment. This frame stays on for several hours while the radiation planning process is being carried out and then the patient is treated. An alternative, less invasive option is CyberKnife, which uses a simple mesh mask to immobilize the patient. This allows for the planning to be done several days prior to treatment, which enables the patient to have a much quicker and more seamless experience. Not all hospitals offer this option for radiation therapy, and brain cancer patients (or patients with brain metastases) may not learn about it unless they seek a second opinion.
Radiation may be recommended as an alternative to other treatments, too. Highly targeted stereotactic body radiotherapy (SBRT) can offer similar cure rates as surgery for some early stage lung cancers (with fewer side effects). It can also spare some prostate cancer patients from having to undergo a prostatectomy.
In short, seeking a second opinion for a cancer diagnosis gives you the chance to explore all possible treatment options, whether you’re dealing with a straightforward diagnosis or something more complex. And, even if the second oncologist’s recommendations are exactly the same, you’ll have peace of mind knowing you’re making the best choice.
You’ll also have an opportunity to make an intentional choice about where to begin your treatment.
“Where you start matters,” Hayes said. “Some cancer patients are treated incorrectly the first time, and then when their cancer recurs, their treatment options can be limited and the chance for cure is less than when they were first diagnosed.”
Approaching Your Current Physician
Starting the conversation aout a second opinion with your doctor can feel a little awkward. But, most physicians are used to these kinds of requests, and they should welcome them.
Start by saying something like, “I think I’d like to talk with another doctor to be sure I have all my bases covered.” You can even ask your doctor for a referral or recommendation.
“You can ask, ‘Where would you send a loved one for a second opinion?’” Hayes said.
If they are offended by your request to get a second opinion, that is a red flag.
Why Choose Fox Chase for a Second Opinion
At Fox Chase, our multidisciplinary approach to care means a patient’s diagnosis and treatment are considered from all angles and by multiple specialties. And, because we’re a nationally recognized cancer center, we can offer access to cutting-edge technology and clinical trials that you might not find elsewhere in the region.
“As an NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center, our goal is to advance care and provide the latest treatment options to our patients,” Hayes explained. “That is one of the many reasons patients come to us for a second opinion.”