Getting a second opinion

When making decisions about your healthcare, you may want to talk to another doctor and see what that doctor recommends. This is called getting a second opinion. You can ask for a second opinion anytime during your diagnosis or treatment.

Some people find it hard to tell their doctor that they’d like a second opinion. You may find it reassuring to know that asking for a second opinion is common and most doctors do not have a problem with it.

If you’re thinking about getting a second opinion, be honest with your doctor. Let them know that you would like to see someone else before deciding on treatment.

Why you might want a second opinion

You don’t have to ask for a second opinion if you are comfortable with the diagnosis and treatment options that your doctor has discussed with you.

But after being diagnosed with cancer, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed and confused. You may wonder if you have been given the right diagnosis. You may need to figure out how to choose one of the treatment options that your doctor has given you. Or you might want to know if there are other treatment options for the type of cancer you have.

A second opinion can tell you that all the right tests have been done and that the test results have been interpreted properly. Hearing what another doctor says may help you feel better and more confident about your treatment decisions.

How to get a second opinion

Doctors will often help you get a second opinion about your diagnosis or treatment plan. Ask your doctor to refer you to other doctors who are not closely connected to them. If you are looking for a second opinion about surgery, ask your family doctor to refer you to another surgeon who doesn’t work with your surgeon. If you have private medical insurance, your provider may be able to help you find a second opinion.

Ask for a copy of your medical file, including test results and biopsy samples, to be sent to the second doctor to help them make a diagnosis. Ask the second doctor to send copies of their opinion to your family doctor and the doctor who gave the first opinion.

Once you have the second opinion

Once you have the second opinion, talk to your original doctor or your family doctor. If the second opinion is the same, then you can feel more confident about your diagnosis and treatment plan.

Sometimes a second opinion will offer a different diagnosis or treatment options for you. This can be confusing and upsetting. But there are different ways to treat cancer, and it doesn’t mean that the first opinion was wrong. Talk to your original doctor about the second opinion and what they think of it. Ask them to discuss it with the doctor who gave the second opinion. They may be able to come to an agreement about your diagnosis and treatment.

If the doctors are not able to come to an agreement, you may have to ask a third specialist to review both opinions and give you a recommendation.

You’ll have to make a final decision on what is the best choice for you, based on the different opinions and recommendations.

Changing doctors

Sometimes people with cancer think about changing doctors. You may be uncomfortable with your doctor or find it hard to talk to them. You may want to see another doctor with more experience in treating your type of cancer or one who suggests a different treatment from your current doctor. Whatever the reason, it can be very hard to ask to change doctors.

If you have problems talking to your doctor but you agree with the treatment plan they’ve proposed, you may want to try to improve the situation before changing doctors.

It’s important to be open and honest with your doctor. Tell your doctor that you’re concerned about how you are communicating with each other. Ask if you can discuss this and find a way to work together to solve it. You may need to schedule a separate visit to discuss the situation. 

Other members of your healthcare team might be able to help. Your family doctor, oncology nurse, social worker or patient advocate may be able to suggest ways to improve communication.

If you decide to change doctors, let your doctor know that you would like to see someone else. Tell them you appreciate all their help, but you want to try to find someone else who is better for your needs at this time.

Expert review and references