Seeking a Second Opinion

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 03/2018

Cancer is a confusing and frightening diagnosis. When a person is diagnosed, it may be hard to make decisions about treatment options. Treatments are constantly getting better, and it is important to find someone who has experience with your type of cancer. Many people seek the knowledge and advice of another doctor. They do this to confirm a diagnosis and evaluate how to treat it. This is called a second opinion.

Asking for a second opinion is common practice. It helps people to feel more confident about their health care choices.

How a second opinion may help

A second opinion may provide the following information:

  • Confirmation of a diagnosis

  • Additional details about the type of cancer and its stage, such as:

  • Perspective from experts in different oncology disciplines, such as medical oncology, radiation oncology, and surgical oncology.

    • A description of where the cancer is located

    • Whether the cancer has spread

    • Whether it is affecting other parts of the body

  • Other treatment options, in cases where the doctor disagrees with the initial diagnosis or the proposed treatment plan

  • What clinical trials are available for you. These are research studies involving people.

Paying for a second opinion

Most insurance providers pay for a second opinion if cancer is suspected or diagnosed. Ask your insurance provider about coverage. It is best to do this before making an appointment. Ask if you are required to select from a certain group of doctors. Some providers even require a second opinion before they will pay for treatment.

Finding a doctor for a second opinion

Tell your doctor if you want to get a second opinion. Most doctors know the value of a second opinion. They are not offended when patients seek one. They may even be able to recommend another doctor. Also consider searching the Find a Cancer Doctor database from Cancer.Net. It has a list of ASCO members in the United States and abroad who have made their contact information public.

There are other ways to find an oncologist:

Once you find another doctor, ask about his or her area of specialty and credentials. This includes training, experience, and board certification in their specialty.

Preparing for the appointment

Gather all of your relevant medical records to bring to the appointment. This includes test results, such as blood work or imaging tests. Often, the doctor providing a second opinion will ask for the results of any tests or procedures you have already had. This prevents repeat testing. It also helps to have the actual images from your most recent imaging tests. Typical testing images may include a computed tomography or CT scan. They may also include pathology slides from the initial biopsy. Cancer.Net has several medical forms you can download to help keep all your information organized.

Getting the information you need during the appointment

Here are some tips for the appointment:

  • Take notes. Writing down the information allows you to review it later. You might also consider recording it.

  • Take another person with you to help you take notes and remember the discussion with the doctor.

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

Related Resources

Choosing a Doctor for Your Cancer Care

Making Decisions About Cancer Treatment

Questions to Ask Your Health Care Team