People confronted with a serious or life-threatening illness — especially cancer — often want to get a second opinion on their condition, or on the course of action their doctor initially recommends to treat it. You may feel uncomfortable or awkward sharing that wish with your doctor, but it’s one of your most important rights as a patient.
No one knows your body better than you do. Ultimately, it’s not only your right but also your responsibility to seek a second opinion whenever you feel you need one.
Here are useful tips about how to go about the process.
Seek a Second Opinion If You’re Unsure about Your Diagnosis or Treatment Options
You absolutely should seek a second opinion when your diagnosis is uncertain. Cancer is a complex set of diseases, and the most effective treatment begins with an accurate diagnosis. Many comprehensive cancer centers, including Memorial Sloan Kettering, offer second opinions provided by pathologists —doctors who are trained in diagnosing disease — with special expertise. If you’ve been diagnosed with a rare cancer, a second opinion is also vital.
You also may want to get a second opinion if you’ve been offered several different treatment options; if the recommended treatment could be toxic or is invasive, such as surgery; or if you’re considering an experimental treatment or procedure.
The bottom line is that you should feel assured that you’ve been correctly diagnosed, that you’re making the best treatment choices, and that you’re working with a medical team in whom you feel confident.Back to top
Tell You Doctor You Want a Second Opinion
You shouldn’t worry about offending a doctor if you want a second opinion. A good doctor will understand your need to be as well informed as possible and should welcome the input of another professional. In addition, whether you’re seeking a second pathology opinion, a second opinion from another doctor, or both, you’ll need to provide all your medical records to whoever will be giving the second opinion. Your original doctor is the person who can make these arrangements. It’s also important that he or she is able to consult openly with another doctor or pathologist about areas of agreement or disagreement.Back to top
Ask for a Second Opinion Recommendation
You certainly can ask your doctor for a referral. But it’s a good idea to try to see someone at another institution. Every medical organization has its own culture and approaches. For example, doctors at one hospital may prefer to monitor certain cancers instead of using more aggressive procedures to treat them. By getting a second opinion, you can learn more about your options and which may be most suitable for you and your situation. It never hurts to get a fresh point of view.Back to top
In Treatment? You Can Still Ask for a Second Opinion
You can get a second opinion even if you’re currently in treatment. For example, if your treatment isn’t working, if your symptoms worsen, or if new symptoms emerge, you have a right to tell your doctor you’d like a second opinion.Back to top
Check with Your Insurance Provider Before Seeking a Second Opinion
Most insurance plans cover second opinions, especially when cancer is suspected or diagnosed. In fact, some insurers actually require a second opinion before they’ll pay for cancer treatment. However, you should always check with your insurance provider before seeking a second opinion.Back to top