“You have nothing to lose if both opinions match up for the good, and everything to gain if something that was missed is found, which does happen.” (Photo: Getty Images/ Frazer Harrison)
“Last week, with my husband by my side, and with the love and support of family and friends, I underwent a bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction for breast cancer after a diagnosis of invasive lobular carcinoma,” the 58-year-old actress said in a statement to People. “I am recovering and most importantly, expected to make a full recovery. Why? Because I caught this early, have excellent doctors and because I got a second opinion.”
This second opinion is key —Wilson shared that her initial pathology didn’t show that she had cancer. She has long had a condition called lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS), which requires regular monitoring via MRIs and mammograms because it’s known to increase breast cancer risk. Recent breast biopsies revealed she had pleomorphic carcinoma in situ, which is when the LCIS cells look abnormal upon closer look under a microscope. Initially, this “pathology showed no cancer,” she said in the statement.
But then “a friend who had had breast cancer suggested I get a second opinion on my pathology and my gut told me that was the thing to do,” she said in the statement. “A different pathologist found invasive lobular carcinoma. His diagnosis of cancer was confirmed by, yet, another pathologist. I share this to educate others that a second opinion is critical to your health. You have nothing to lose if both opinions match up for the good, and everything to gain if something that was missed is found, which does happen. Early diagnosis is key.”
Wilson’s story is a reminder that if you feel you need more information about imaging or tests, or your instincts tell you there’s something more that your doctor isn’t picking up on, take it to another physician. “A doctor should never be upset about a patient getting a second opinion,” Susan Boolbol, MD, chief of breast surgery at Mount Sinai Beth Israel, tells Yahoo Health. “If she is, then you should walk away immediately. Especially with breast cancer, no one needs surgery tomorrow. You shouldn’t be delaying two months, but there’s time for a second opinion.”
If you do seek out another perspective, you should be hitting some key checkpoints. “A lot of times, it’s a gut reaction – but know why you’re getting a second opinion,” says Boolbol. “First, you want someone who deals with the condition or cancer everyday; these fields are so complex, you want a specialist.”
You also want your second doc to be looking and digging, not just reassuring. “For breast cancer specifically, you should have someone reviewing the imaging and the pathology, not just going in to talk to them, which a lot of people don’t realize,” says Boolbol. “If one radiologist sees something that another did not see, it can change the course of your treatment.”
Wilson’s particular kind of cancer was invasive, meaning it had the potential to spread outside the breast, Boolbol explains. There are two main types of invasive breast cancer, lobular and ductal, classified by the location the cancer originates. Lobular is the second most common form of invasive breast cancer.
For unspecified reasons, Wilson chose to undergo a bilateral mastectomy for her cancer — which is becoming more and more common in recent years, but isn’t necessarily recommended for all invasive lobular carcinomas.
“The most common treatment is still a lumpectomy, and radiation typically follows,” Boolbol says. “However, more are opting to undergo a bilateral mastectomy — and women make that decision for very personal reasons, like a strong family history of breast cancer.”
Boolbol thinks there’s been an uptick in bilateral mastectomies recently because breast reconstruction has become better and better, but says it’s important to note that it’s not for everyone. “It gives the patient a sense of control, which I understand,” she says. “But there are studies — data tells us that bilateral mastectomy does not change the overall survival rate.”
This data does not include preventative mastectomies among women with genetic mutations, which Boolbol calls “a separate group.” But the type of treatment a woman receives for breast cancer is a very personal decision, she emphasizes.
For more on Wilson’s breast cancer diagnosis, watch the video below:
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