Cancer is a word no one wants to hear and getting a diagnosis of cancer is difficult news. Whether you’re looking for more answers about your diagnosis or you just have questions about your treatment plan, seeking a second opinion can help you better understand your diagnosis and decide your own path forward.

Let’s explore when to get a cancer second opinion, some tips for getting started, and how to use your second opinion to guide your decisions so you feel confident about your choices.

When to get a second opinion on cancer

It’s your right to get a second opinion about any part of your cancer diagnosis or treatment. It never hurts to gather as much information as you can. However, make sure you have time to get a second opinion safely – you may need to start treatment right away.

Consider getting a cancer second opinion when:

Your doctor doesn’t specialize in your kind of cancer

Oncologists often have expertise in different types of cancer, like breast cancer, lung cancer or skin cancer. Each cancer is unique, and some cases are rarer than others. Seeking out a second opinion can help confirm your diagnosis, which can then help inform your treatment plan.

You have questions about your treatment choices or their side effects

The medical field is always advancing. For some cancers, a second opinion may uncover different treatment options. A second opinion might also help make clearer the risks and rewards of certain therapies.

You’re interested in clinical trials or experimental treatment

Getting a second opinion can be particularly important if the therapies you’d like to try are still being researched. A second opinion can help evaluate whether you’re a suitable candidate for a clinical trial. You’ll also find out if the care offered fits with your treatment goals.

You just want to be sure

In the days and weeks after you’ve been diagnosed, it’s very normal to wonder about what your results mean and what’s ahead. A second opinion can help confirm that you have the best information. That way, you can start treatment confidently.

Does insurance cover second opinions for cancer? How do I tell my current doctor I’d like a second opinion?

If you’ve decided you want a second opinion, it’s important to investigate a few things at the start of the process.

You’ll want to contact your insurance company to discuss your options. Many insurance plans actually require you to get a second opinion (or even a third opinion) before they start to cover treatment. But there may be differences in which specialists you can see (and where). Your insurance plan can provide a list of oncologists and locations in your network. If you need to seek a second opinion, it’s a good opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of your diagnosis.

Also be sure to tell your current oncologist you’re interested in a second opinion. If you feel worried about offending them, don’t be. Most oncologists will be happy to support you in your second opinion search. A second opinion means more information and more precision, which helps you get the right care and treatment. Ask your oncologist if they have any recommendations on who can offer you a second opinion.

How to get a second opinion for cancer?

Follow up on any suggestions your current oncologist gives you. If you’re comfortable, talk to your family and friends and ask them for any recommendations. They, or someone they know, may have gone through a similar situation.

You can also do research on reputable cancer centers and oncologists in your area. Look for specialists who are experts in your diagnosis or cancer type. Good places to start include:

When exploring potential oncologists, check their credentials, history, experience and certifications. Once you’ve found someone who looks like the right fit, call their office and say you’re interested in a cancer second opinion.

How do I get ready for my cancer second opinion appointment?

Before your appointment make certain that all your medical information is available for the doctor you will be seeing. This can include things like your medical history, imaging tests, biopsy slides and more. Be sure to give your second opinion doctor enough time to examine everything so they’re ready to discuss their opinion when you come in.

It can also be helpful to write down your questions and concerns about your diagnosis or treatment. This way, it’s easier to remember the particular topics you want to talk about in the moment.

How can I make the most of my second opinion appointment?

The information you get may be a lot to take in. Consider bringing a close family member or friend for support – having someone with you can help you take notes and keep track of what you hear during your appointment. Ask questions about anything you don’t understand or any aspects of your diagnosis or treatment you want to specifically review.

Also, you’ll want to find out how your second opinion doctor came to their conclusions about your diagnosis or treatment:

  • What factors did they consider? Which were most important?
  • What guidelines or medical standards are they following?
  • How often do they see other patients with a similar diagnosis? What have they recommended in those cases?
  • How is your case alike or different?

If what your second opinion doctor says isn’t the same as what your current doctor tells you, try to pinpoint areas where they agree and where they don’t. Get all the details you can so you can make an informed decision. You might also ask if your second opinion doctor and your current doctor will consult with one another. This may help them find more alignment on their viewpoints.

After I get a second opinion about my cancer, how do I use it?

Remember: You control your care decisions. Take the time to consider each doctor’s diagnosis, prognosis and suggested treatment plan. Weigh the evidence, advantages and disadvantages. If you’re not sure how to proceed, ask close family members, friends or your primary care doctor for advice. In some cases, like when your second opinion doctor disagrees significantly with your first, you might want to look for a third opinion.

No matter what you choose, knowing you’ve made a well-researched decision can benefit your care. When it comes to your health – and certainly when it comes to cancer – confidence matters. Getting a second opinion may provide reassurance that can help calm your nerves and give you peace of mind as you begin your cancer treatment.