Imagine you’re sitting in a hospital room and your doctor is telling you some of the most devastating news of your life: you have breast cancer. The first thing you probably think of doing is scheduling a surgery to remove the cancerous areas as soon as possible. However, never underestimate the importance of a second opinion—that’s what one Michigan woman learned after undergoing extensive surgery to remove part of her right breast, only to discover that she actually did have cancer in the first place.
Our own IB member, Melissa Kelly of the firm Spangenberg, Shibley, and Liber, recently wrote about a NYT article that featured Monica Long, a Cheboygan, MI woman who was informed that she had DCIS in 2007. Her pathologist suggested an extensive surgery that left Monica with a golf ball-size chunk taken out of her breast. But in 2008 she was told that her pathologist had actually made a mistake. Her new doctor was positive that she never had the disease and that all of the treatment she received—including the surgery, radiation, and the drugs—were unnecessary.
For many years, a biopsy has been considered the gold standard of diagnosing breast cancer. As it turns out, diagnosing early-stage breast cancer is notoriously difficult and there is increasing recognition of the problems. In fact, the federal government is now financing a nationwide study of variations in breast pathology, based on concerns that 17 percent of D.C.I.S. cases identified by a commonly used needle biopsy may be misdiagnosed. Nevertheless, Monica Long’s experience is particularly troubling considering the doctor who made her diagnosis, Dr. Linh Vi, was not board certified. In addition, he recently admitted that he only reads about 50 breast biopsies a year, which is far short of the experience that leading pathologists say is needed in dealing with the nuances of difficult breast cancer cases. Overall, Ms. Long’s case reminds us of the importance of getting a second opinion before undergoing any major operations or treatments. As attorney Melissa Kelly points out, some people might hesitate to do so because they might feel like they’re abandoning their primary doctor, or about the time that it might take to obtain a second opinion. Despite these concerns, it is always best to get a second opinion and stop worrying about hurting your doctor’s feelings when it comes to your health, well-being, and ultimately, your life.