When you’re facing cancer treatment, it’s normal to wonder if another doctor could offer more information or a different treatment option. You might want to find another doctor who can look at your test results, talk with you about your personal situation, and maybe give you a different take on it. Getting a second opinion can help you feel more sure about your diagnosis and treatment plan.
Treatment decisions should be made after you have learned all you can about your diagnosis, prognosis, and available treatment options. This can take time, depending on the type of cancer you have. In a few cancers, there are some treatment decisions that have to be made right away. But usually, you can take some time to think about them, and you should think about them. If you are concerned about waiting to start treatment, you should talk to your doctor.
Reasons for getting a second opinion include:
It’s hard to understand complex information when you are anxious or afraid. And sometimes, without knowing it, doctors use words that you don’t understand. If you don’t understand something, ask your doctor to explain it to you.
Even if the doctor carefully explains things, you may not hear or remember all that is said. Here are some ways to help you remember everything your doctor tells you.
Even after you have given your doctor a chance to carefully explain your cancer to you, you still may decide getting a second opinion is right for you.
Some people find it hard to tell their doctors that they’d like a second opinion. Remember it is common for patients to get a second opinion, and doctors are comfortable with the request. If you are unsure of how to begin, here are a few ways to start the conversation:
Before you start looking for a second opinion, contact your insurance company to find out what your policy covers. In some cases, you may have to get a second opinion from another doctor who is part of your health plan before the plan will pay for your treatment
It’s important to be able to give the new doctor the exact details of your diagnosis and planned treatment. Make sure you have the following information handy and always keep copies for yourself:
You can ask your current doctor’s office for copies of your records. If you have had treatment or tests in a hospital or clinic, you may need to contact their medical records department to find out how to get these records. Sometimes you can request your records through an online patient portal if your doctor's office, treatment center, or hospital has one.
Let your doctor know if you want to get a second opinion. Most doctors understand the value of a second opinion, and they are not offended when a patient wants one. They may even be able to recommend another doctor.
The following are some other possible resources for finding an oncologist:
Although cancer patients seem to be asking for a second opinion more frequently, studies show the benefits of getting one are unclear . If the second opinion differs from the first, you may find the following tips helpful:
Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.
Coffey K, Mango V, Keating DM, Morris EA, D’Alessio D. The impact of patient-initiated subspecialty review on patient care. J Am Coll Radiol. 2018;15(8):1109-1115.
Hillen MA, Medendorp NM, Daams JG, Smets EMA. Patient-driven second opinions in oncology: A systematic review. Oncologist. 2017;22(10):1197-1211.
Peck M, Moffat D, Latham B, Badrick T. Review of diagnostic error in anatomical pathology and the role and value of second opinions in error prevention. J Clin Pathol. 2018;71(11):995-1000.
Last Revised: August 7, 2019