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Cancer: When Do You Need a Second Opinion, and Why?

Getting a second opinion is your right as a cancer patient.

Why Get a Second Opinion? continued...

"Second opinions can be useful for many reasons, even if the doctors are following standard guidelines,” says Burstein. “They can confirm the direction you are already heading, but they might also suggest new directions or considerations, or perhaps clinical trials, that are being pursued at comprehensive cancer centers. Experience matters in caring for cancer patients, and second opinions allow patients to tap into a wealth of oncology experience."

Even if most second opinions just confirm what you already know, they still play an important role. A second opinion offers peace of mind.

“Without getting a second opinion, people are sometimes obsessed with ‘what ifs,’” says Buckner. “What if I’d had a different treatment? What if I’d seen a different doctor?” Getting confirmation from a second opinion can really help. You know that multiple experts agree on the treatment you need. You can feel more confident that you’ve made the best possible choice.

Who Needs a Second Opinion?

Getting a second opinion is never a bad idea. But there are instances in which you absolutely need one. They are:

  • If you have any doubts about your doctor or don’t get along with him or her. Having a good working relationship with your doctor is crucial. If you don’t have it, find someone else with whom you’re more comfortable.
  • If your doctor doesn’t have much experience treating your cancer. Ask your oncologist up front about whether he or she has a lot of experience treating your type of cancer. If not, you need a second opinion. Having experience is crucial in treating any cancer, says Burstein.
  • If you have a rare type of cancer. If you have a common cancer of the breast or prostate, there are plenty of good doctors that can help. But the average oncologist may not have seen many -- or any -- cases of a rare cancer. The problem is not just a lack of experience. “The rarer the cancer is, the more likely it is to cause a difference of opinion in how to treat it,” says Buckner.
  • If your doctor says no lifesaving therapy is available.
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