Getting A second doctor's opinion

Obtaining additional doctor’s opinions is a CANCER THRIVER’s standard of care. When you have cancer getting a second or third opinion from different doctors is not an option, it’s a requirement. No matter how long you know your doctor, that your doctor is the best or that the doctor is world renowned, you need a second opinion.

Doctors have differences of ideas, they make mistakes, and they have different levels of experience, all of which leads to different recommendations. Some doctors are more conservative than others while others tend to be more aggressive. The approach to understanding and treating your cancer can differ from one doctor to another; for example, a surgeon can legitimately believe that surgery is the best course of action while a radiologist believes that radiation treatments are your preferred treatment protocol.

It is not unusual for findings and recommendations to differ dramatically. For this reason, you must always obtain second opinions after a cancer diagnosis.

There can be many benefits to getting a second opinion. Benefits can include peace of mind knowing that you are steering the correct course, developing a different treatment plan to even ending up with a different diagnosis.

It is easier if your second opinion just confirms what the primary doctor told you. A confirming second opinion will let you know that you have done everything you can to ensure that you have the correct diagnosis and treatment plan. Even in cases where the diagnosis is confirmed, a second opinion can open the potential of a different or additional treatment option that was not mentioned by the original doctor.

A second opinion will allow you to become more informed about what is available. Being fully informed will pave your way to better medical decisions, possibly a longer life, as well as an improved quality of life.

What Does Research Say About Second Opinions?

The need for having a second opinion has been borne out by scientific research. A study was done ( at the Mayo Clinic in 2010 found that as many as 88% of patients looking for a second opinion will leave the second opinion doctor’s office with a new or better-refined diagnosis. Meanwhile, 21% of patients will leave with a “distinctly different” diagnosis.

The Mayo study also showed that 12% of patients who had a second opinion left the doctor’s office learning that the original diagnosis was not correct.

Another study conducted at the Johns Hopkins Hospital showed that medical errors rank as the third leading cause of death in the United States, supporting the need for you to have a second opinion.

When you do seek a second medical opinion, you should remember that an error is as likely to be coming from the second opinion doctor. Given this, if you find that the two doctors vastly disagree it would be wise to get a third opinion.

The key that should guide you is to keep digging until the diagnosis and treatment make sense to you. Anyone diagnosed with any cancer must get a second opinion. A cancer diagnosis is confusing, overwhelming, and it is a life-changing event.

No doctor, no matter how informed, is aware of the findings from every single study and clinical trial. Doctors are only human. That's why you need to advocate for yourself and to obtain as many additional medical opinions as you need. Getting other views will improve the likelihood that you will end up with the best possible treatment plan.

Do not allow financial concerns block you from having a second opinion. Most insurance companies will cover the cost; some insurance companies will require anyone diagnosed with cancer to have a second opinion.

Second opinions should always come from doctors who are associated with different hospitals from each other. Like everything in life, hospitals have politics, and you want to be sure that your second opinion doctor isn’t constrained by these types of concerns.
One of the most common concerns expressed, as a reason not to get a second opinion, has to do with insulting your doctor. Getting a second opinion is not an insult to your doctor, it is your standard of care. Oncologists expect that patients with cancer will get numerous medical opinions.

Most doctors welcome additional input because they recognize that they do not know everything. If they don’t encourage you to have a second opinion you need to move on and find a different doctor. Only a primary doctor without confidence in their personal opinions fears a second opinion.

Remember, deciding to get a second opinion does not mean that you are difficult or that you are in denial about your diagnosis. Getting a second opinion is not only the standard of care you should be insisting upon; it means that you are smart.

As a Cancer Thriver, you need to take an active part in your health care, getting a second opinion is an important component of the process.

National Institute of Health. "Patient-initiated second opinions: systematic review of characteristics and impact on diagnosis, treatment, and satisfaction," U.S. National Library of Medicine, May 2014.

NPR. "Medical Errors Are No. 3 Cause Of U.S Deaths, Researchers Say", May 3, 2016.

Young, EZ. "Mayo Clinic researchers demonstrate value of second opinions," Mayo Clinic News Network, April 2017.