Should I Get a Second Opinion?

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Female doctor consults with female patient.

It’s not only your right but also your responsibility to seek a second opinion if you want one.

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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Hi
My mother is currently being treated for stage 4 cancer. The treatment is not being very effective and I'm going to approach her current oncologist for a second opinion from MSKCC. Are there any protocols I should be aware of? Will an oncologist at MSKCC be able to provide a second opinion of her treatment before she continues or starts on a new treatment?
thank you

Dear Paulo, we’re very sorry to hear your mother isn’t doing well. To find out about getting a second opinion for your mother, you can call our Patient Access Service at 800-525-2225. The experts who staff that office will be to answer your questions about getting a second opinion at MSK. Thank you for your comment, and best wishes to you and your family.

My brother is 50 years old, he was diagnose with chronic Myeloid leukemia. He was in remission but it came back more aggressive. Now his Dr said there is nothing is out there for him just for the moment for him to die. He want s second opinion.he lives in Rhode Island and his insurance is Medicare can he qualified for a second opinion?

Dear Carmen, we’re very sorry to hear your brother’s cancer has come back. If he’s interested in learning more about getting a second opinion at MSK, the number to call is 800-525-2225. He can go to https://www.mskcc.org/experience/become-patient/appointment for more information. The experts who answer the phone will be able to answer his questions, including about insurance.

If he is not able to come to MSK because of distance or insurance, he may want to seek out a second opinion at another National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center. You can find a list here: https://www.cancer.gov/research/nci-role/cancer-centers

Thank you for your comment, and best wishes to you and your brother.

I am being followed by an ear nose and throat specialist for pre cancerous patches on the roof of my mouth discovered by my dentist. The ENT sees me every 6 months . I have had a biopsy . Is it possible to get a second opinion without the condition being diagnosed as cancer?

My son, Paul, 17, was diagnosed with a Melanoma in January. On Feb 1, he had surgery at Yale's Smilow to remove more tissue and three lymph nodes. Tests revealed that one of the 3 nodes included 6 Melanoma cells. the medical oncologist is torn between offering immunotherapy or, if Paul tests positive for the BRAF gene, using targeted therapy. Paul is particularly concerned about the long-term side-effects of immunotherapy. I wonder if you have experience treating a patient who is so young and whose melanoma was so flukish (no family history or time in the sun). How do they fare with immunotherapy?--Tosh

We are very sorry to hear about your son’s diagnosis. We do have members of our team who are experienced treating melanoma in younger patients. If you would like to bring your son to MSK for a second opinion or treatment, you can call 833-MSK-KIDS or go to this page to learn more about making an appointment: https://www.mskcc.org/pediatrics/experience/become-patient/appointment

Thank you for your comment and best wishes to you and your family.

My sister in-law a 39 y.o. Female was diagnosed with Uterine Leiomyosarcoma 2-1/2 years ago. Since then she has done 18 weeks of chemo (Doxyrubicin/Isophosamide) 18weeks, another IV chemo & 2 other oral chemo. She initially had a hysterectomy, then it metastasized to the liver. She had a liver resection in 2017. Now, the cancer has spread to the pelvis area, lungs & once again to the liver. One of the tumors in the pelvis area is putting pressure on the femoral artery & the sciatic nerve in which is causing g excuruating uncontrolled pain. Her Sarcoma Oncologist at MD Anderson says surgery is not an option on that tumor because of it’s location. Now she is on hospice & I’m hoping & praying for a miracle. Are we too far gone to ask for a second opinion in this matter?

We’re very sorry to hear about your sister-in-law’s diagnosis. If you’d like to speak with someone at MSK about traveling to New York for a second opinion, you can call 800-525-2225. Thank you for your comment and best wishes to you and your family.

I am a nurse and was asked to accompany my nephew for his second opinion. Will info be exchanged at this appt or just assessment?

Dear Patricia, we recommend that your nephew speak with the office of the doctor he will be seeing to find out what kind of information may be conveyed at his appointment. Thank you for your comment and best wishes to both of you.

I am looking at two different diagnoses that eventually I will want a second opinion from a doctor(s) who specializes in the areas. They are MGUS (although hematologist is questioning the diagnosis) and pulmonary nodular lymphoid hyperplasia and/or follicular bronchiodosis (differential diagnosis pending review in 3 months). If the 2nd opinion would come from 2 different departments @ MSK would I need to request 2 second opinions? Or is there a team of related doctors that could look at both?

Dear Linda, the experts who staff our Patient Access Service should be able to answer your questions. You can reach them at 800-525-2225. You can also go online to learn more about making an appointment. Thank you for your comment and best wishes to you.