Cancer is the second most common cause of death after heart failure across the world. Despite rapid medical advancements and the treatment options available today, cancer remains a major threat to our society. The occurrence of cancer in India is estimated to be around 2.5 million, with about 1.25 million new cases being registered every year and approximately 800,000 deaths related to the illness.
Second opinion is the practice of a patient seeking an alternate evaluation of his or her diagnosis and course of treatment by another, or a few other specialist doctors to confirm the diagnosis and validate their treatment. Studies have shown that up to 30 per cent of patients who have sought second opinion have found that their initial treatment advice did not match with the alternate advice, and in most cases the latter proved more beneficial.
Although taking second opinions is not a new concept, as a medical service it has been gaining popularity in recent times. It is quite common for patients to seek second opinions, especially for life-threatening illnesses like cancer, says Dr Amit Jotwani, co-founder and Chief Medical Affairs, Onco.com. According to a study published by Mayo Clinic in the US, one in five patients who took second opinions had a change in their diagnosis.
Another study by John Hopkins Institute supported the use of second opinions as a life-saving measure. According to an Onco.com study, published in the year 2018, more than 80 per cent of cancer patients who availed our second opinion service, benefitted in terms of a better understanding of their diagnosis and 40 per cent of patients had a change in their treatment plan, Jotwani points out. In India, where there is only one cancer specialist for 2,000 cancer patients, and the majority of doctors are available only in big cities, the quality of cancer care is the biggest problem faced by patients which leads to poor results.
In a disease like cancer when one doesn't have enough time, the right treatment is as important as the treatment itself as there is no scope for a second chance for most patients. Hence, it is prudent to get a multidisciplinary second opinion to ensure the best chances of recovery.
Cancer is a complex disease and requires a multi-disciplinary approach in treating a patient.
However, in India there is a challenge to such an approach for various reasons such as a lack of access to expert oncologists, advanced treatment centres and affordability. In the case of cancer treatment, it is advisable to consider a multi-disciplinary review that consists of a team of doctors, which include three specialties - surgical, medical and radiation oncology, the expert says. Such a review can provide a validation of the patient's treatment plan, or suggest better and more accurate options, thus preventing chances of mistreatment and optimizing medical expenses, he says.
"For instance, we received a case where a patient was diagnosed with lung cancer and was undergoing chemotherapy. The family reached out to us and took a second opinion from Onco.com's panel of experts where the doctors identified that the patient had an operable disease and they were advised to go for surgery which had better chances of cure.
The patient eventually underwent surgery and has been on follow up thereafter. This also further amplifies the importance of getting a second opinion for diseases like cancer. "We believe it is the right of every cancer patient to be fully informed about their diagnosis and the best treatment options available for them. Unbiased second opinions can help empower patients with all the available options, not only to validate the course of their treatment but also to provide them with a sense of confidence to march forward in their fight against the disease."
(By Puja Gupta, can be contacted at [email protected])