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NSCLC: When to ask for a second opinion

Portrait of man listening to medical professional

The decision to seek out a second opinion is more common than you think. Whether you’ve just been diagnosed with NSCLC (non-small cell lung cancer) or you’re already moving toward treatment, there are valid reasons to ensure you have the most complete picture possible before embarking on treatment. In fact, seeking a second opinion is often considered a best practice – particularly in cancer care. The second provider may verify what the initial provider said, which can be reassuring, or offer additional information or options–which may be helpful or also more confusing. Ultimately, after seeking a second (and possibly a third) opinion, it is up to the patient to decide which provider they felt a better connection with and who can offer the treatment that aligns with their goals of care.

If you’re considering pursuing a second opinion, ask yourself these important questions first:

Is my diagnosis as accurate as possible?

Your care team will most likely pursue molecular or genetic testing to not only analyze the DNA of your tumor cells, but to help match you to the most appropriate treatment therapy. If this hasn’t been discussed with your doctor, you should ask for a second opinion. 

Is my doctor the best one for me?

Whenever you have a health concern of any kind, you always want the best care team in your corner. If possible, seek out a care team who specializes in NSCLC, and consider finding a second opinion at a large hospital that’s affiliated with a university or large medical institution so you’ll have access to a more holistic ecosystem of care. If you don’t live near a major health center affiliated with an academic institution, another option that many people consider is to travel to a center with a specialist, get the second opinion, and then have their local provider implement the care team. This is common and providers are typically seasoned at coordinating such a program.

Is there a more innovative approach available?

With the best care team often comes the best facilities and the most innovative technologies. Make sure your team is practicing under the most current lung cancer treatment guidelines and that they’re both aware and open to emerging treatments.  If your current care team doesn’t meet this criteria then you might consider a second opinion. 

Is my doctor listening to me?

Most importantly, you should feel like you and your doctor are making decisions about your treatment plans together. If they’re not spending time with you – or listening to you – then think about getting a second opinion from a doctor you might feel more comfortable with for the long run. Your emotional state is of the utmost importance, but keep in mind that every doctor is a busy doctor with limited time. And at the end of the day, we spend a lot of our time with the extended care team, many of whom are trained to lead with compassion. Decide what works for you.  

Is my doctor offering me targeted therapies?

If your doctor isn’t presenting ideas for targeted therapies or clinical trials, it’s possibly because you don’t qualify – but it’s also possible they don’t know about them. Join online support groups created for patients with your specific diagnosis, and ask lots of questions. Download the Outcomes4Me app to learn more about the latest relevant treatment options. You can also access ClinicalTrials.gov to see what clinical trial options are available.

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