Do You Need a Second Opinion?

By Stacey Feintuch
Reviewed by Lillie Shockney, RN, BS, MAS

When your oncologist gives you a plan for tackling your cancer using chemotherapy, you can easily just follow orders. And if you have a trusting relationship with your doctor. But what if you’re beginning to question the treatment advice you’re getting? Or you want to help ensure that all treatment options that you’re a candidate for have been offered to you? Then what should you do?

Well, then, it may be time to seek a second opinion. Don’t worry that your oncologist will be offended. Healthcare providers often encourage second and even third opinions, especially if you have a rare form of cancer—in fact, it’s an important sign of a good physician. After all, they know that consulting with another doctor can help you sort through your treatment options, answer questions and simply shed new light on how cancer and chemotherapy is affecting you.

You may walk away with a renewed sense of confidence in your existing oncologist and in the choices you’re making—or you may decide it’s time for a change.

Do I need a second opinion?
You may, if . . .

  • Your insurance company requires a second opinion before covering your treatment
  • You’re uncertain about your diagnosis
  • You’re uncertain about your treatment
  • Your current doctor has recommended you undergo a risky procedure
  • You want to learn your options and see whether the treatment or procedure is necessary
  • Your doctor is a general oncologist and doesn’t exclusively specialize in the type of cancer you have

Searching for a second opinion healthcare provider
Your current doctor may recommend a physician or two, but don’t feel obligated to follow the suggestion. Chances are, the physician will be a friend or colleague within the practice—and that means you might not get an objective opinion. You can get names of a second-opinion healthcare provider from:
Seek a second opinion physician by getting names from:

  • Your insurance company (try their website)
  • Your local or regional cancer center (check the list of specialists on their website)
  • Visiting the National Comprehensive Cancer Network site where you’re assured oncology specialists use approved and specific treatment  practice guidelines
  • Visiting the American College of Surgeon website where oncology specialists must meet certain accreditation standards to practice at these institutions.
  • Family or friends who’ve been treated for the same condition

Get ready for your visit
Be sure that the second-opinion doctor accepts new patients and your insurance plan. Get a referral from the first doctor or your original referring doctor if you need one, and have all your records sent to the second-opinion doctor before your visit.

Selecting between doctor 1 and doctor 2
After you have everything you need from Doctor 2, you’ll have to decide which doctor’s advice to take.

If both oncologists agree on your treatment, think about the one you’d prefer to work with. Ask yourself what plan makes the most sense, involves the least risk and focuses on the issues that are most important to you. Remember that the nicer doctor, the one who went to a better school or the one who’s more attractive isn’t always right for you and doesn’t make a better healthcare provider.

But if the two disagree on your treatment recommendations, consider the plan that focuses on the issues most important to you, involves the fewest risks, has shown good outcomes and makes the most sense.

If the two doctors’ opinions differ vastly, think about getting a third opinion. The third opinion will likely be similar to either Doctor 1 or Doctor 2, which will help you reach a decision.

Most important, go with your gut. You need to feel confident in the oncologist taking care of you. Sometimes, following your intuition is the best way to help you reach a conclusion.

Published March 2014

  Your Care Team

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You and Your Medical Oncologist
Do I Need a New Oncologist?

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5 Steps to Getting a Second Opinion
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