If you’ve been diagnosed with a serious illness such as cancer or your doctor has recommended surgery, your instinct may be to start treatment as quickly as possible. That may not be the best course of action, however, because undergoing some types of treatment may mean that you’re not able to undergo others if the first treatment is not effective or if the condition returns. That’s why it’s wise to explore the full range of treatment options before making a decision.
Step 1: Get a second opinion
Whenever you’re diagnosed with a serious, rare, or complex health problem or a doctor recommends surgery, you should consider getting a second opinion. A second opinion can not only confirm or change your diagnosis, it can also help you explore other appropriate treatment options the first doctor may not have mentioned. For example, if you’ve received a recommendation for back surgery from an orthopedic surgeon, you may want to seek a second opinion from a spine specialist who does not perform surgery so you can learn what non-surgical options may be effective for your condition.
If you’re diagnosed with cancer, it can be helpful to meet with the entire treatment team before deciding what treatment plan to pursue. Depending on your diagnosis, the team can include a medical, surgical, and/or radiation oncologist, hematologist, and interventional radiologist. The team will coordinate your care and determine whether your treatment plan will include radiation, surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, hormone therapy, targeted therapy, or a combination of treatments.
Questions to ask when deciding what treatment plan to follow
To gather the information you need to make an informed treatment decision, ask your doctors these questions:
- What is the gold standard treatment for my condition?
- Are there other evidence-based treatments or clinical trials that I may want to consider? What are they?
- Will undergoing any of these treatments mean that I may not be eligible for other types of treatment in the future?
- What are the risks and benefits of each treatment for someone with my medical history?
- What are the potential side effects and how often do they occur?
- How effective are my treatment options for the specific condition I’ve been diagnosed with and what clinical evidence is there that supports the use of these treatments for patients like me?
- How much experience do you have delivering this treatment or performing this surgery?
- What are your professional credentials? Are you board certified or fellowship trained? Do you participate in research studies and clinical trials?
- What are your success and complication rates for this treatment?
- What are my options if the first treatment does not work for me?
- What may happen if I choose not to undergo treatment at this time?
In addition to talking with your doctor, a health advisor can be another resource for information that can help you make an informed decision. An advisor can provide you with evidence-based information about all your options, connect you with specialists who have experience treating people with the condition you’ve been diagnosed with, and help you get second opinions.