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HealthWatch: SF Service Offers Free 2nd Opinion On Cancer Diagnoses

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A doctor observes a patient's x-ray images. (CBS)

A doctor observes a patient’s x-ray images. (CBS)

CBS SF Bay (con't)

Affordable Care Act Updates: CBSSanFrancisco.com/ACA

Health News & Information: CBSSanFrancisco.com/Health

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – Northern California cancer patients are taking advantage of a unique service provided by a Bay Area non-profit group  – a second opinion on their cancer diagnosis, free of charge.

Paul Rodgers of Galt, near Sacramento, was recently diagnosed with prostate cancer.  San Francisco resident Delia Nelson has ovarian cancer and Oakland Ana Paredes’ cancer has spread to her intestines.

Each were able to get a second opinion about their diagnosis and treatment from a panel of cancer specialists. The service is free to anyone who has had a cancer diagnosis. It doesn’t matter if the patient has insurance or not.

The service, aptly-named The Second Opinion – has been operating in the Bay Area for decades.

The Second Opinion’s medical director, oncologist Dr. Howard Kleckner, said the service offers hope and reassurance to patients, that “at the end of this dark tunnel that they’re going through, that they’re going to be ok.”

“There isn’t anything quite like it anywhere that we’re aware of,” said Dr. Kleckner, “certainly in the state of California and perhaps the country.”

Three times a month, a panel of volunteer physicians, including pathologists, oncologists, radiologists, pathologists, surgeons, and specialists – meets to review and discuss 3 cancer cases in detail.

The doctors, some retired, are from medical centers and practices around the Bay Area. The Second Opinion welcomes any cancer specialist would like to volunteer.

Another The Second Opinion volunteer, retired oncologist Dr. Lake, came on board because of 1st-hand experience: both parents were cancer patients and both used and benefited from The Second Opinion.

Lake said cancer patients get a great benefit. “They will have a totally unbiased second opinion about their illness, not influenced by practice models or finances or any professional biases that way,” said Dr. Lake.

Dr. Kleckner meets with each patient to go over medical histories. As these individual meetings go on, the panel of expert cancer doctors meet to go over a final review of each patient’s medical records. Then one by one, each patient goes before the panel and hears what they have to say about the patient’s case. The patient gets to ask questions. Not only that, each session is recorded and a copy of the entire meeting is provided to the patient for review.

“I don’t know of any other tumor board where they get to come and ask their own questions in their own words and hear the discussion that goes on, I think that’s really valuable to the patient,” said Sequoia Hospital radiation oncologist Dr. Lisa Boohar.

Two years ago, Rene Klein was diagnosed with prostate cancer and had surgery.  His doctor wanted him to have follow-up radiation.

But Klein was unsure. “What should I do? When should I do it? Am I making the right decision?” Klein said he remembered thinking.

Klein turned to The Second Opinion. “There was a lot of discussion back and forth and towards the end finally one of the urologists who was there he just turned to me and said, his exact words, ‘if I were your brother, I would tell you to do this, and I would do this sooner rather than later,’” said Klein.

Klein chose radiation. “To have someone say ‘this is what we recommend, this is what we think you should do’ is an enormous weight off your back,” said Klein.

Rodgers decided on surgery and radiation. “That’s priceless that you have confirmation from seven specialists that that’s probably the best way to go,” said Rodgers.

Nelson also felt reassured she’s on the right track. “They’ve told me the treatment that I’m taking is actually the best treatment I could have gotten,” said Nelson.

As for Paredes, she’s going to try a cancer drug with fewer side effects. “It was worth listening to so many different doctors with different opinions,” said Paredes through her interpreter. The Second Opinion also provides interpreters for those who have trouble with English.

At the end of the day, that’s what matters to the volunteers – – giving patients who are fighting the tough fight – – some peace of mind.

The Second Opinion is a non-profit group that relies on donations and grants.  If you would like to make a donation, volunteer your services or find out more information, go to thesecondopinion.org

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