Seeking a Second Opinion

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 03/2021

When you first learn you have cancer, learning about your diagnosis and making treatment decisions can be difficult. For instance, there may be several treatment options, and cancer research continues to explore and discover new treatments and treatment improvements. That is why it is important to find experts with experience treating your type of cancer to provide you with information. In order to decide on a cancer treatment plan you are comfortable with, you may want to consider getting a second medical opinion.

Should I get a second opinion if I have been diagnosed with cancer?

Before starting treatment, you may want to ask a second doctor about your diagnosis and talk about possible treatments. This is called "seeking a second opinion." It is common and can help you feel more confident about the treatment plan you choose.

When you get a second opinion, the first thing the doctor will do is confirm your diagnosis. This includes the type of cancer, where it is, if it has spread, and if it is affecting other parts of the body. And, getting a second opinion is not just useful for getting medical information. It can also help you decide if a doctor, health care team, and treatment center are a good fit for you.

There are many things to keep in mind when you are choosing a doctor for your cancer care. You will have an ongoing relationship with your oncologist and the rest of your cancer care team. It is important to make sure that you work well together.

You should also think about the hospital or treatment center you will go to. There are benefits to going to a local hospital in your community and to traveling to a major cancer center. For example, a major cancer center may offer more access to supportive services or clinical trials, which are research studies. Local clinics and hospitals are close by and can point you to support resources within your community.

A second opinion will also help you understand your different treatment options. This can be especially important if you have an uncommon type of cancer. Even if there are standard treatment protocols for your specific type and stage of cancer, there can be variations in treatment. Different doctors may have a different approach. This could be the type of treatment, the treatment schedule, or the types of supportive therapies offered. You should also ask what clinical trials are available to you.

Most insurance companies will pay for a second opinion if your doctor says or suspects you have cancer. They might even require you to get a second opinion before they pay for cancer treatment. Before you make an appointment for a second opinion, be sure to ask your insurance company what costs they will cover. Also, ask if you need to pick a doctor from a certain hospital or clinic.

How do I find another doctor for a second opinion?

If you decide you want a second opinion, tell your current doctor. You might be worried about this, but getting a second opinion is a normal and routine part of today's cancer care. They will not be offended. They might even be able to recommend another doctor for you to contact. You can also search the Find a Cancer Doctor database from Cancer.Net. It has a list of cancer specialists who are members of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) in the United States and around the world who have made their information available.

Other places to look for a second doctor include:

Learn more about how to find a doctor for your cancer care.

Getting ready for the appointment

Before you go to the appointment to get a second opinion, gather all of your medical records related to cancer. This includes test results, such as blood work and/or imaging tests. The doctor giving a second opinion will probably ask for the results of any tests or procedures you already had. Ask the second doctor's office if any test results, imaging scans, or other medical information needs to be sent ahead of time, before you have your appointment. This can keep you from having to have these tests again. Cancer.Net has several medical forms you can download to keep all your information organized.

Here are some tips for how to get all the information you need during the appointment:

  • Take notes. Ask the doctor if you can record the appointment. Writing down notes or recording the appointment can help you review the information later.

  • Take someone else with you. They can help you take notes and remember what and the doctor talked about.

  • Ask questions, especially if the doctor says something you do not understand. It is important to have the information you need to make the best decisions about treatment.

Getting a second opinion will help you feel more empowered and confident in your treatment decisions. It is important that you receive cancer treatment you understand and are comfortable with, and a second or even a third medical opinion can help you do that.

Related Resources

When Is It Time for a Second Opinion?

Taking Charge of Your Cancer Care

Making Decisions About Cancer Treatment

Questions to Ask Your Health Care Team

Finding a New Doctor

More Information

CancerCare: When to Get a Second Opinion