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Frequently Asked Questions

Can I send my records to a larger cancer center to get a second opinion or do I have to personally be seen at the cancer center?

Generally, you have to take your records and go to a large cancer center for a second opinion. At the cancer center you will be able to meet the cancer experts you have sought a second opinion from, discuss with them what treatment approach they believe is best for you, and ask questions that you might not even have thought of yet.

While this may be less convenient, especially if you live in a rural area, it is usually the best approach. Going to the cancer center will allow you to be examined physically. This is important because decisions about breast conservation or reconstruction are determined according to the size of the tumor, the size of the breast, and a woman's body. Also, it is possible for a second cancer or lump to be found by the second opinion doctor.

To find this type of program in your area, contact the university-based hospital nearest you, the American Cancer Society, a local breast cancer support group, or one of the NCI Comprehensive Cancer Centers. There are currently 69 NCI-Designated Cancer Centers, located in 35 states and the District of Columbia.

If the physicians at the cancer center agree with your local doctor, it will probably help to reassure you about the treatment you will be receiving closer to home. If there is a difference of opinion, and you want to go with what the doctors at the cancer center recommend, you can ask them to have a conversation with your physician about the treatment they are recommending. That will allow you to receive the treatment that you believe is best in the place that is closer to your home. If your doctor won't do the treatment they recommend, you should travel to the cancer center. It may be inconvenient in the short run, but it is worth it in the long run.

Some cancer centers at large institutions now offer second opinions through the doctor—that is, your doctor asks the experts for their opinion. This approach would allow you and your doctor to learn whether the experts at the cancer center agree with the original recommendations. However, since you aren’t the one actively seeking the second opinion, you don't get the opportunity to talk to the physicians at the cancer center and they only get the information your doctor gives them, which may or may not include factors that are important to you or answer all of your questions.

You should call the clinic coordinator at the institution you have chosen for the second opinion and ask about their specific policies. If you live in a rural area and it is too difficult to travel, they may have a service that will look at your records without you being seen. Doing it this way may not be as ideal as actually being there, but it will provide you with additional important information.

Is it okay to get a second opinion from another pathologist? How do I do this?

It is very common, and often a very good idea, to get a second opinion from another pathologist. To do so, you will need to have all of your slides sent from your hospital to the pathologist. This is best done by calling the pathology department at the hospital where the surgery was done.

The most important thing is that the second opinion comes from a specialist in breast pathology and not from a general pathologist.

You also may want to consider being seen at a multidisciplinary breast care center where you could not only bring your pathology slides and breast films for review, but be seen by a breast specialist, medical oncologist, and radiation oncologist. They would review your pathology slides and mammography images and then discuss as a group how they think you should proceed.

To find this type of program in your area, contact the university-based hospital nearest you, the American Cancer Society, a local breast cancer support group, or one of the NCI Comprehensive Cancer Centers. There are currently 69 NCI-Designated Cancer Centers, located in 35 states and the District of Columbia.