Amid the capital-E emotions that attend a breast cancer diagnosis—terror, rage, dread—there's often a quieter note: doubt. It's the little voice in your head that asks, How do I know this doctor is telling me the right thing? That's why many women opt for a second opinion.

Some may shy away from seeing a different doctor because they fear being overwhelmed by conflicting information, but that's increasingly less likely: In the past decade, both diagnosis and treatment have become fairly standardized. Experienced pathologists tend to agree on the diagnosis, and doctors usually stick to the treatment regimen recommended by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, says Joanne Mortimer, MD, a medical oncologist and the director of women's cancer programs at the cancer research and treatment center City of Hope near L.A.

But within those regimens, there's room to tailor treatments to your priorities, so it's essential to make sure your doctor understands your specific needs. "When an otherwise-healthy 40-year-old woman comes in, she wants to do whatever is necessary to get cancer-free—she doesn't want this disease again," says Laura Shepardson, MD, associate director of breast imaging at the Cleveland Clinic. "Contrast that with an elderly woman who has breast cancer along with multiple other medical problems and just wants to be as comfortable as possible."

Bedside manner matters, too. "The patient-doctor relationship really is significant. You see each other regularly for a decade," Mortimer says. "If you don't feel a personality mesh, that's a good reason to get another opinion." She advises picking a physician at a different institution recommended by a nonprofit advocacy group, such as the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

Susan Brown, Susan G. Komen's senior director of health education, suggests that newly diagnosed patients ask how common their cancer is, what the treatment options are, and their pros and cons. That information will help guide you as you decide which doctor is right for you.


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