UK HealthCare

Breast Cancer Patients Need Second Opinions

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Aug. 17, 2011) — The following column appeared in the Lexington Herald-Leader on Sunday, Aug. 14. 

Breast Cancer Patients Need Second Opinions

By Dr. Suleiman Alfred Massarweh


A diagnosis of breast cancer brings a great deal of stress and disruption to the lives of afflicted patients and their families.

Beyond the shock of first learning she has breast cancer, a woman must make a series of decisions about treatment options and their potential effects, as well as adjustments in her life to accommodate the uninvitedchanges brought by a breast-cancer diagnosis.

Frequently, it is not easy to make these decisions in the short time following the diagnosis, especially when trying to adjust while driven by the fear of the disease and, perhaps no less, the fear of treatment.

It is critical for patients diagnosed with breast cancer to spend an adequate amount of time learning about the disease, its prognosis and all available treatment options. This understanding will help them make the best decisions they can to optimize their outcome.

Most important, patients should not feel rushed into making decisions about treatment until they have had enough time to weigh all their options and consult with breast-cancer experts when this option is available.

Breast-cancer experts are specialized physicians who dedicate their clinical practices and research to treating women with breast cancer exclusively. They have a wealth of experience managing all levels of complexities in breast disease.

Because these experts see a large number of breast-cancer patients with a wider spectrum of clinical problems, they are more qualified to recommend the best treatment approach. This is especially true in complex cases requiring a higher level of expertise and when the disease is resistant to standard therapy strategies used in the community.

Typically, specialists in breast-cancer treatment are also experts in the research field, which always fuels advances in the clinic and affects the lives of patients everywhere. Clinical research is a valuable component of patient care, and patients should always ask about what research trials are available as they are exploring their options.

After first learning of the diagnosis of breast cancer, patients should take adequate and appropriate time to meet with a breast-cancer specialist for a second opinion.

In some circumstances, patients eventually might choose to be treated closer to home. A second opinion can help them understand all their options or reaffirm a treatment option that might have been suggested by a local oncologist.

Even when patients face the difficulties of resistant breast cancer and when treatment options seem to be exhausted, a consultation with a breast-cancer specialist can open doors of hope and new options for treatment.

Dr. Suleiman Alfred Massarweh is a professor of medicine in the University of Kentucky College of Medicine and a breast oncologist at Markey Cancer Center.