Getting a Second Opinion

a doctor goes over paperwork with a patient in gown in an exam room

When you’re dealing with cancer or another serious health issue, choosing a treatment plan can seem overwhelming. One way to make sure you’re learning about all your options is to seek a second opinion from another doctor. Many people do this, and most doctors are comfortable with it.

You can get a second (or third, or more) opinion for any reason, but some reasons people have given are:

  • You want to know every possible choice for treatment.
  • Your doctor is not sure what is wrong with you.
  • You have a rare or unusual diagnosis.
  • You think another treatment might be available.
  • Your doctor is not a specialist in your condition.
  • You’re having trouble talking with your doctor, or you want your options explained by someone else.

Still, some people feel shy about telling their doctor they want to get a second opinion. Here are some ways to start the conversation:

  • “I’m thinking of getting a second opinion. Can you recommend someone?”
  • “Before we start treatment, I’d like to get a second opinion. Will you help me with that?”
  • “If you had my type of cancer, whom would you see for a second opinion?”
  • “I think that I’d like to talk with another doctor to be sure I have all my bases covered.”

You should not feel rushed to decide about treatment, even when your health problem is serious. It’s usually safe to take time to get a second opinion.

  • Contact your health insurance company to find out if your plan will pay for a second opinion.
  • Ask your current doctor or your insurance company to recommend another specialist. Or consult a local hospital or clinic, or a medical association that provides a searchable database of specialty doctors.
  • Ask your current doctor’s office – or if you were treated in a hospital, the medical records department – for copies of your records.

Be ready to give the new doctor:

  • A copy of your pathology report from any biopsy or surgery
  • If you had surgery, a copy of your operative report
  • If you were in the hospital, a copy of the discharge summary that every doctor prepares when patients are sent home
  • A summary of your doctor’s current treatment plan
  • A list of all your drugs, drug doses, and when you took them

After the second opinion

If the second doctor agrees with the first, you can feel more confident that this is the best treatment plan for you. If the second opinion differs from the first, these are some things you can do next:

  • Make an appointment with your first doctor to talk about the second opinion.
  • Ask both doctors to explain how they arrived at their treatment plan.
  • Ask them how they interpreted your test results.
  • Ask what research studies or professional guidelines they consulted. The National Comprehensive Cancer Network and National Cancer Institute have the most current guidelines available for several cancer types.
  • Ask what they have recommended to other patients in your same situation.
  • Ask if it is possible for the two doctors to review your case together.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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