Getting a Second Opinion on Colorectal Cancer

Every year, about 150,000 Americans learn that they have colorectal cancer. Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in the U.S. (not counting skin cancer). It is also the third-leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. at about 52,000 people annually.

Overall, the rate of colorectal cancer diagnoses has dropped each year since the mid-1980s, reports the American Cancer Society.

But there’s one important exception: people under age 50. Their rate of colorectal cancer is increasing by 1% to 2% per year in this group.

People younger than 50 who develop colorectal cancer often have a family history of the disease. Their disease is more likely to be advanced at the time of diagnosis. Inherited disease is more likely to be aggressive.

Doctors may mistake colorectal cancer for other conditions, especially among younger patients. These include irritable bowel syndrome and hemorrhoids.

Colorectal cancer is often deadly when doctors diagnose it at an advanced stage. But when caught early, about 90% of patients will still be alive in five years. That’s why colon cancer screenings are so important.

What Happens After Colorectal Cancer Diagnosis?

If your doctor gives you a colorectal cancer diagnosis, they will work with other experts to develop a treatment plan. In their planning, they will consider:

  • The exact location of the colorectal tumor, as left-side and right-side tumors have different outlooks.
  • The tumor’s stage. Is the tumor confined to the colon’s inner lining or has it spread outside the colon?
  • Whether lymph nodes are involved. If so, how many?
  • The tumor’s molecular profile. Does it have genetic mutations that doctors can target?
  • Your family history of colorectal cancer.
  • Your overall health.
  • Your personal preferences.
  • Any other relevant information.

Colorectal cancer treatment usually includes surgery to remove the tumor and nearby tissue. You’ll probably also need chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Depending on your tumor stage and type, your doctor may also recommend targeted therapy or immunotherapy.

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Crafting the Right Treatment Plan for You

Creating a treatment plan for colorectal cancer means your doctor will have to make many decisions. For example, you may receive chemo either before or after surgery.

Chemo before surgery is called neoadjuvant treatment. The chemo shrinks the tumor to make surgery easier or to get better results.

Chemo after surgery is called adjuvant treatment. The chemo will try to kill any cancer cells that may remain after surgery.

Your care team will determine the right order for your treatments.

Benefits of a Second Opinion in Colon Cancer

When you have cancer, you want to take action immediately. But it’s important to learn all you can about your diagnosis, outlook, and treatment options first.

With colorectal cancer, you can usually take some time to think about your options. Ask your doctor if you can take a few weeks to decide what you want to do next.

Let your doctor know you want a second opinion. It is your right to seek all the information you need. Your doctor will not be offended and may recommend a doctor or cancer center to you.

Your insurance company may even require you to get a second opinion before you start treatment.

How a Second Opinion on Colorectal Cancer Can Help

You might want the peace of mind that comes from knowing that experts agree. That’s why getting a second opinion on colorectal cancer can set your mind at ease. It may help you feel more comfortable with your diagnosis and treatment plan.

A second opinion can answer three important questions for you:

  • Is the diagnosis correct?
  • Is the treatment plan correct?
  • Are there any other treatment options I should consider?

Having a correct diagnosis and treatment plan means you won’t undergo unnecessary tests or treatments. You can save your strength and resources for where they’ll do the most good.

What to Expect at a Second Opinion Visit

Contact your health insurance company to find out if your policy covers second opinions. If so, that doctor may need to be part of your health plan for them to cover your visit.

Make sure you have all available information about your colorectal cancer diagnosis before your second opinion appointment. That means:

  • Your exact diagnosis, including stage.
  • All test results, including imaging, blood tests, genomic profiling, and pathology reports.
  • Your treatment plan, indicating all available options.
  • Operative report from any biopsy or surgery.
  • Any hospital discharge summaries.
  • A list of all current medications, including dosages.

Ask both doctors the same key questions:

  • How did you make my diagnosis?
  • How did you create my treatment plan?
  • What test results went into my diagnosis and treatment plan?
  • What research studies or professional guidelines did you consult?
  • Did you consult any other doctors about my case, including a pathologist, surgeon, medical oncologist, or radiation oncologist?

Both doctors may agree on a diagnosis or treatment plan, or they might have different opinions. At some point, you will have to decide on a course of action that makes sense to you.

Second Opinions at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center

UPMC Hillman Cancer Center offers a second opinion service that might make all the difference to you and your family.

UPMC is the only cancer center in the region selected by the National Cancer Institute as a Comprehensive Cancer Center. As a top cancer program, UPMC offers access to renowned experts and more than 450 clinical trials.

If you’re currently seeing a UPMC cancer doctor in our system, you’re already receiving this great care. That’s because our special network of Clinical Pathways means that multiple cancer experts automatically review your treatment plan.

If you see a doctor outside the UPMC system, a second opinion by a Hillman Cancer Center doctor may be a good option. When you call 1-888-9-HILLMAN, a trained coordinator will explain your options.

We know how important answers are when you have cancer. That’s why you’ll receive the first available appointment for a second opinion. We will coordinate needed care throughout your visit.

Key Statistics for Colorectal Cancer. American Cancer Society. Link

Colorectal Cancer: Statistics. American Society of Clinical Oncology. Link

Drs. Joy Zhou Done and Sandy H. Fang. Young-onset colorectal cancer: A review. World Journal of Gastrointestinal Oncology. 2021. Link

Seeking a Second Opinion. American Cancer Society. Link

About UPMC Hillman Cancer Center

When you are facing cancer, you need the best care possible. UPMC Hillman Cancer Center provides world-class cancer care, from diagnosis to treatment, to help you in your cancer battle. We are the only comprehensive cancer center in our region, as designated by the National Cancer Institute. We have more than 70 locations throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York, with more than 200 oncologists – making it easier for you to find world-class care close to home. Our internationally renowned research team is striving to find new advances in prevention, detection, and treatment. Most of all, we are here for you. Our patient-first approach aims to provide you and your loved ones the care and support you need. To find a provider near you, visit our website.