Should I Get a Second Opinion?

By Celia Gittelson,

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Female doctor consults with female patient.

Seeking a second opinion is important if you want to be sure you receive an accurate diagnosis and the best treatment options. A good doctor will welcome the input of another professional. Remember to gather all your medical records and check about insurance coverage before seeking the second opinion.

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.

Making an Appointment
If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with cancer, contact our Patient Access Service for an appointment. No referral necessary.
Learn more

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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My 26yr. old son was diagnosed with EXTRASKELETAL MYXOID CHONDROSARCOMA in Nov. 2015. Hes been on several diffrent chemotherapys. We've never seeked a second opinion but i've been reading alot about how important it is to get one. I have a full set of his records i can send to you. Please let me kno if this is possible

Hi Denise, if your son would like to come to MSK for a second opinion, you can call 800-525-2225 or go to for more information on making an appointment. If you are not able to travel to MSK in New York, you may want to look into getting a second opinion at another National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center. You can find a list at Thank you for your comment, and best wishes to you and your son.

my brother received a non-Hodgkin's lymphoma stage iv diagnosis 3 weeks ago, and has not come out of the hospital since. we are scared he will die there. what options do we have for a second opinion if he is not released from the hospital. he has started and stopped chemo, but is well enough to travel -

Dear Lucy, we are very sorry to hear about your brother's diagnosis. If you are interested in making an appointment for a consultation with one of our specialists to discuss possible treatment options and clinical trials, please call our Physician Referral Service at 800-525-2225. Thank you for reaching out to us.

I was diagnosed with a GIST tumor . The oncologist I was working with said he might see one or two in his career. The best thing I did was travel to MSK for a second opinion. Your article is very well done and strongly recommend this approach.

Dear Paul, we are sorry to hear about your diagnosis but are happy to know that you felt well-cared for at MSK. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experience on our blog.

Hi, I am staying in Dubai, I need a second opinion from your hospital Mskc .
So what I have to do?

I have been diagnosed with Leptomeningeal Metastases and in radiation for a total of 5 treatments. My oncologist is thinking of Alimta as a chemo source but indicates that it has not always been successful. I am eager to get a second opinion.

How would I request a tumor board review? Our oncogist that it could be beneficial. We have already done Foundation One genomic sequencing. I would love to have it ran through Watson without having Quest Diagnostic do an addition sequencing which would not prove beneficial.
My husband is stage 4 clear cell RCC. Grade 4. Left nephrectomy and right adrenalectony June 16th. Pathology reported approx 25% sarcomatoid. His disease is growing quickly and we are yet to find the treatment that works for him.
48 years old. Live in Fort Worth TX.

Thank you for any advice.

Stephanie Perry

Hi Stephanie, tumor board review -- including review of sequencing information -- is something that is offered to our patients as part of their overall evaluation. If your husband would like to come to MSK for a second opinion, you can call 800-525-2225 or go to for more information on making an appointment. Thank you for your comment.

I still reel from a cancer surgery *experience* done in Tucson in July 2011.
So much so I stopped going to Dr.'s since then when I had gone regularly,
every single year, for various check-ups since the 1980's.
This decision has caught up with me now re:a diagnosis of stage 111?breast cancer on December 13th, 2016.
Since then I have gone from the immediate "all-head' get-it-done reaction to, as more information came in;
To "Mary Ellen, learn from your past experience", it IS your responsibility".
Get a second opinion connected with I ❤️ NYC.
Please. 12/27/2016

My husband has stage 2-3 pancreatic cancer currently in chemo at roswell. He will be evaluated after 4 chemo rounds. I have empire plan blue cross blue shield insurance. Should we wait until he's completed 4 rounds of chemo? I'd like a review medical records . Would insurance cover it? Thank you!!!

Dear Deborah, if your husband would like to be evaluated by MSK's experts, you can call 800-525-2225 during regular business hours. Our experts at that number will be able to answer your questions about insurance. You can go to for more information on making an appointment. Thank you for your comment, and best wishes to you and your husband.

If I come to you for a second opinion will it be covered by Medicare?

Dear Nick, our Physician Referral Service should be able to answer any questions you have about insurance coverage, including Medicare. You can reach them at 800-525-2225 during regular business hours. Thank you for your comment,and best wishes to you.

Hello while trying to make appointment for second opinion was told doc on vacation and earliest appointment was march 7th. This is 4 weeks out is this an acceptable wait time for the hospital? I was trying to get in the week of February 20th as I will be traveling from out of state.

Dear Darlene, we're sorry to hear you're going through this. We work hard to get patients in as quickly as possible, and we know it can be very stressful to wait after receiving a cancer diagnosis. Medical conferences and vacation time do have a negative impact on availability. Since our physicians work as a team, we are often able to schedule you with another doctor who would be a good match. If you call back, our specialists may be able to find another doctor who is able to see you sooner. The number to make an appointment is 800-525-2225. Thank you for your comment and best wishes to you.

Hello while trying to make appointment for second opinion was told doc on vacation and earliest appointment was march 7th. This is 4 weeks out is this an acceptable wait time for the hospital? I was trying to get in the week of February 20th as I will be traveling from out of state.

Hello...I was a patient at Sloan in September/October 2014 after a diagnosis of liposarcoma. I had a tumor removed from my left thigh, then because it was difficult for me to get into the city regularly, I received radiation treatments at a center close to my home on Long Island. I thought I was cured but in September 2015 I was diagnosed with a metastasis to the lung...only small nodules but malignant nonetheless. Since November 2015 I have been on chemotherapy and am currently on my 4th regimen, finishing my 3rd cycle so we can do a CT scan and see if it's working. My oncologist has told me that he does not believe that the chemotherapy will ever completely get rid of the tumors in my lungs, but we may be able to find a chemotherapy regimen that keeps them at bay and treat the disease like a chronic illness. Would it be unethical of me to tell him I'd like to come back to Sloan for a second opinion because there are sarcoma specialists there and perhaps there's something more that can be done? I don't want to offend him because he really has been a wonderful doctor, but I feel like he's given me a death sentence and I can't believe that's all I can do. Please help. Thanks.

Kathi, thank you for reaching out. You should not hesitate to get a second opinion about your case if that is your wish. All good doctors understand the situation.

If you would like to make an appointment with a Memorial Sloan Kettering physician, please call our Physician Referral Service at
800-525-2225 or go to

If you do seek treatment at MSK, you might be able to receive some of your treatment at our outpatient facility in Commack:

(The main number above is still the one to use to inquire about an appointment.)

I have been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. I don't doubt my diagnosis but would like a second opinion on my chemo treatment. I am scheduled to start my first treatment Monday, March 20.

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