If you have been diagnosed with cancer, you may want to get a second opinion from another doctor before you begin treatment. A second opinion can help you confirm your diagnosis and fully explore potential treatment options. Your doctor can tell you how quickly your cancer needs to be addressed and how much time you have to look into your options.
Patients with cancer commonly seek a second opinion. Some health plans actually require one, especially when a doctor recommends surgery or an experimental therapy. It shouldn't take more than a week for a doctor's office to obtain records from your doctor and schedule you for a second opinion appointment.
Before you make a second opinion appointment
- Tell your doctor you want a second opinion. You may not feel comfortable talking to your doctor about getting another opinion. To make the conversation easier, reassure your doctor that you are satisfied with your care, but that you want to ensure you have explored all available treatment options. It may help to bring a family member or friend along for support.
- Check with your insurance provider. Before you schedule an appointment, find out what your policy covers. You may need to get a second opinion from a doctor with your plan.
- Request your medical records. You’ll want to bring your lab results, test results, and scans (such as original X-rays or MRI or CT scans) with you to your appointment. You can also have the new doctor's office request your records from your doctor, if that is more convenient.
Schedule interviews with several doctors. If you don’t need treatment right away, take some time to choose a doctor or surgeon who is the best fit. Here are some questions you can ask:
- Are you board certified?
- How long have you been treating patients with my diagnosis?
- What treatments do you offer for my type of cancer?
- What are your office hours?
- How often do you perform the surgery I need?
- What is your success rate on the surgery I need?
Finding a doctor for a second opinion appointment
- Ask your doctor. Your oncologist should be able to give you the name of a specialist who has experience treating people with your diagnosis. If you don't have an oncologist, ask your primary care doctor.
- Use a physician referral service. Many facilities have physician referral services that you can call or search online. You can find out more about the doctors in your area, such as their areas of expertise, office locations and languages spoken.
- Ask your insurance provider. Your insurance provider may be able to provide you with a list of approved specialists associated with your plan.
Choosing a doctor for a second opinion appointment
- Look for a doctor experienced in treating your type of cancer. This is especially important if you have a rare cancer. Studies have shown that the more experience doctors have treating a specific condition, the more successfully they can treat it.
- Seek out a doctor at an accredited hospital. If a hospital is approved by the Commission on Cancer, a program of the American College of Surgeons, that means it is committed to providing the best in cancer care. To find a hospital near you, use the Commission on Cancer hospital locator tool.
Ask about supportive services. Supportive services for patients and families can help ease the stress of a cancer diagnosis and help you better manage treatment. Here are some examples of supportive services that may be available:
- Support groups
- A social worker or coordinator to meet with patients and provide support
- Complementary therapies that can ease symptoms or treatment side effects, such as acupuncture, massage and
- Make sure you are comfortable with nurses and support staff. They will be the ones providing your day-to-day care, answering questions and helping you schedule appointments, deal with your insurance company, obtain prescription refills and other important issues.
- Find out if you have options to offset the cost of care. If you don't have health insurance, many hospitals help patients apply for Medicaid, offer payment plans or have charity care provisions.