Why Your Doctor Might Not Know Everything About Your Cancer Diagnosis

Gautam Rajpal
October 6, 2023

As a patient, it can be easy to put complete trust in your doctor when it comes to a cancer diagnosis and treatment plan. After all, they are professionals who have spent years studying and training in the field of medicine. However, even the most skilled and knowledgeable doctors may not have all of the answers for each specific case that they see. Some diagnoses take additional time to study, test, and have an optimized treatment plan created, while additional specialists are sometimes needed to ensure the best outcome for each patient. While patients should speak openly with their doctor to gather information about their diagnosis and recommendations for a treatment plan, your doctor may not have all of the answers for you. Here are a few reasons why this may happen, and what you can do to create an optimal treatment plan.

Limited Training on Specific Types of Cancer

Medical schools cover a wide range of topics and diagnoses, but there is often limited time dedicated to studying rare or less common types of cancer. Even with more common types of cancer, treatment options and best practices are constantly evolving and may not be covered in-depth in medical training.

For example, imagine that you have been diagnosed with a rare type of sarcoma. Your doctor may be an expert in treating more common types of cancer, such as breast or lung cancer, but they may not have as much experience with sarcomas. This doesn't necessarily mean that they are not competent to treat you, but it is important to keep in mind that they may not have the same level of expertise as a doctor who specializes in sarcomas.

Medical research, too, is constantly advancing. Therefore, new treatments and therapies are continually being developed. If a doctor has a busy practice and limited time to review new research, it can be difficult for them to stay up-to-date on the latest findings. This means that they may not always be aware of the most current treatment options and recommendations for your specific type of cancer.

Limited Access to Information

Medical databases and journal articles can be difficult for doctors to access, and they may not always contain the most up-to-date research. Additionally, doctors may not have the time or resources to monitor the latest findings in their field. This can be especially true for doctors who are in solo or small group practices, as they may not have the same access to resources as those in larger practices or academic medical centers.

In this case, your doctor may seek out additional resources, such as online cancer databases or specialized cancer centers, to get a more comprehensive understanding of your diagnosis and treatment options.

Individual Difference in Cancer Cases

Every patient and their cancer is unique, and treatment plans are tailored to the individual. Each patient may have a unique combination of factors, such as type of cancer, stage, age, and overall health, that may impact a potential treatment plan and outlook. Your doctor may know a certain type of cancer, but may not be familiar with how underlying health conditions or age may impact treatment. 

In this case, it may be helpful to seek out additional opinions from doctors or specialists who have more experience treating patients in similar situations. This can ensure that you are receiving the most appropriate and effective treatment for your specific case.

Importance of Seeking Out a Second Opinion

That being said, it may be helpful to seek out a second opinion on your case from another source or specialist. This can help you get a more comprehensive understanding of your diagnosis and treatment options and help you feel more confident in your treatment path.

The American Cancer Society states some of these reasons you may consider getting a second opinion: 

  • You want to make sure you have explored all options.
  • You think your doctor is underestimating how serious your cancer is. 
  • You have a rare or unusual cancer. 
  • You think another treatment might be available. 
  • Your doctor is not a specialist in your type of cancer.

Patients are their own best advocates, and it is important to ask any questions that may come up around a diagnosis or treatment plan. Being an active member of your treatment plan can help you feel more empowered and in control of your care and potential outcomes. 

Keep in mind that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to cancer treatment, and what works for one individual may not work for another. It is important to keep an open mind and be willing to consider all treatment options, as what worked for someone else may not necessarily be the best option for you. Ask your doctor about clinical trials or other alternative therapies that may be beneficial to your specific case.

Cancer advice from PhD Experts. It’s free.