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Vanessa Blanco, patient advocate for the Mesothelioma Prognosis Network
Written By Vanessa Blanco
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Mesothelioma Doctors Vs. General Oncologists

The reality is that general oncologists do not see many, if any, mesothelioma patients during their entire medical career. They do not have experience dealing with the complexities of this rare cancer and they are not aware of the most advanced diagnostic or treatment methods. Seeking a second opinion from an expert can result in a more positive outlook and can give you a better opportunity to improve your prognosis and fight back.

Mesothelioma doctors are trained and educated in the subtle intricacies of this disease. They possess the skills, knowledge and experience necessary to accurately diagnose your condition and provide you with tailored treatment options that can give you the best fighting chance.

Second opinions are most important for:
  • Confirming your diagnosis
  • Forming a more accurate prognosis
  • Analyzing the stage and type of the cancer
  • Evaluating your treatment options
  • Determining your eligibility for clinical trials

There is no guarantee that a second opinion will offer you treatment options that can extend your life expectancy, but the possibility is not one that should be overlooked. You do have a say in your treatment plan.

Couple listening to a mesothelioma doctor
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Reduce Your Risk of a Mesothelioma Misdiagnosis

Because the disease is so rare, it is often difficult to diagnose. General oncologists have a higher tendency to misdiagnose this disease because common symptoms often mimic those of less severe respiratory conditions like asthma, pneumonia or conditions that affect the abdominal area such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Specialists are more experienced at spotting signs of mesothelioma and are aware of the best practices to diagnose and treat it sooner. Early detection is key to long-term survival, because this is an aggressive cancer that progresses quickly. The sooner you are accurately diagnosed, the faster you can receive the correct type of treatment.

It is also common for general oncologists to misjudge the stage of the cancer, which can lead to improper treatment. This is largely because there is no universal way for doctors and nurses to formally stage all types of this cancer. Pleural mesothelioma — the most common type — is the only type for which a formal staging system exists.

Curative treatments such as surgery and chemotherapy are based on the stage of tumor development, among other factors, and if a patient is diagnosed at the wrong stage, it can greatly affect the treatment options and the aggressiveness of available treatments.

Doctors who specialize in this asbestos-related illness have a better understanding of how to treat it. They are constantly involved in the research process of innovative treatments and can help increase your treatment options and improve your prognosis.

EPP Extrapleural Pneumonectomy
Dr. David Sugarbaker, pioneer of mesothelioma treatment

Pleural specialist Dr. David Sugarbaker developed one of the most advanced treatment methods known to date. The extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP) is a complicated, invasive procedure that only experienced specialists should perform. It involves the removal of the cancerous lung, as well as parts of the lining of the chest, the lining of the heart, the diaphragm and nearby lymph nodes.

P/D Pleurectomy/Decortication
Doctors performing surgery

Another type of mesothelioma surgery is a pleurectomy/decortication (P/D). Although this option spares the lungs and only removes the lining of the cancerous lung and all visible tumor growth, it is still a complex procedure that should only be done by experienced surgeons.

Alternative Therapy Recommended when standard methods are not an option

Specialists can also recommend alternative treatment options, such as osteopathic manipulative medicine, chiropractic care, massage, acupuncture, meditation and natural medicines if standard treatment methods are not an option.

Clinical Trials The study of emerging treatment options
Doctor examining a liquid under a microscope

General oncologists are typically not as well-informed of the available clinical trials as experts. Clinical trials study the effectiveness of new, emerging treatment options.

Many people with mesothelioma have benefited from clinical trials. Specialists can evaluate your eligibility for a clinical trial and put you into contact with the cancer center holding the trial.

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Second Opinions Can Result in Better Mesothelioma Treatment

Doctors who specialize in this asbestos-related cancer know the most advanced curative options that may extend your life expectancy, and are experienced in performing palliative treatments that can increase your quality of life.

For example, people diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma often suffer from pleural effusions, which is excess fluid buildup in the pleural space surrounding the lungs. This can cause intense pain and difficulty breathing. Specialists know to look for signs of a pleural effusion and how to treat it appropriately.

How to Get a Second Opinion

Begin by letting your family doctor or primary care physician know you would like a second opinion. People with cancer commonly seek second and third opinions, so don’t worry about offending your doctors; they will understand. In fact, some insurance companies require you to get one before you can start treatment. If you feel uncomfortable discussing this with your doctor, you can bring a family member or close friend to your appointment for support.

Once your doctor is aware that you want to explore other opinions, you will need to find a specialist.

Given the rarity of this asbestos-related cancer, finding doctors who specialize in treating it can be challenging, so let us do the work for you. Our team of Patient Advocates can suggest the best doctors and top treatment centers based on the type of mesothelioma you have and where you live.

Our Patient Advocates can also help arrange travel and housing accommodations, as well as assist you with any financial concerns. We want you to receive the best care possible. That is why we are here to help with any obstacle that may prevent you from accessing the care you deserve. Don’t hesitate to contact one of our patient advocates today. Time is everything, so don’t wait. Seek your second opinion now.

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Find Ways to Cover Mesothelioma Costs
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What to Ask When Getting a Second Opinion

A mesothelioma diagnosis can be confusing and overwhelming. There are a lot of unanswered questions, but sometimes it’s hard to know what to ask. A few questions you may want to ask a specialist before beginning treatment:

  • How do you diagnose this disease?
  • What do the diagnostic test results mean for me?
  • What are my treatment options?
  • What do you recommend and why?
  • How does your treatment plan differ from my original plan?
  • What are the benefits and risks associated with each treatment option?
  • What are the side effects of each treatment option?
  • What is your plan if these treatments do not do as well as expected?
  • How will you help me manage side effects?
  • Where will my treatments and other appointments take place?
  • Am I eligible for clinical trials? Which ones?

An optional question: “What is my prognosis?” Some people prefer to know how long they are expected to live, others don’t. Whether you want this information or not is entirely up to you.