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No matter where you are in your cancer journey, getting a second opinion can help you make an informed decision about your cancer treatment.

A second opinion can empower you to make the most informed decision possible about your care, from the type of treatments you receive to the location of your center. But is one right for you? Two cancer specialists weigh in.

What is a second opinion?

When you ask another provider to offer treatment advice based on your diagnosis from an original provider, it's called a second opinion. The second provider reviews your medical history and background to make their recommendation, which might vary from your initial treatment recommendations. 

“A second opinion is basically another set of eyes looking at the diagnosis and treatment options you might have,” explains Dr. Raghava Levaka, a hematologist oncologist at Geisinger. 

You may choose to get a second opinion for a few reasons, including:

  • To get more information about your cancer
  • To look for other treatment options such as clinical trials
  • To find a doctor or treatment center that specializes in treating the type of cancer you have
  • To get peace of mind about your diagnosis and treatment

“When you get a second opinion, you meet with a different provider in the same specialty for further counseling and advice on treating the cancer,” says Dr. Heath Mackley, director of radiation oncology for Geisinger’s central region.

How to get a second opinion

If you’re looking for more information about your cancer treatment, a second opinion may offer options you hadn’t previously considered.

“A second opinion helps when you have a more specific or rare type of cancer, such as a sarcoma,” Dr. Levaka says. “Outcomes may be better when treated somewhere that sees more cases.”
Dr. Mackley agrees that seeking a second opinion can expand your knowledge about treatment options.

“A second opinion can be beneficial if you’re looking at care that’s not available at your current treatment center,” he explains. “These could include things like CyberKnife®, clinical trials or a bone marrow transplant.”

Deciding to get a second opinion is a personal choice. If you choose to get one, start by talking to your healthcare provider. They can help guide you through the process.

Start by thinking about questions you’d like to ask. When discussing a second opinion, consider questions like:

  • Is there another provider you can recommend?
  • Are there different treatment options available elsewhere?
  • Am I eligible for a clinical trial?

“There are a few ways to get a second opinion,” says Dr. Levaka. “Your healthcare provider can request one on your behalf. Or, you can contact another cancer center or provider directly to ask for a consultation.”

What to expect

Once you’ve discussed getting a second opinion with your provider, you may need to follow these steps to begin the process.

  1. Check with your insurance company
    Before you see another provider, you may need to get a referral from your current doctor. Most insurance companies cover the cost. Contact your insurance carrier to learn more.

  2. Schedule an appointment
    Schedule a consultation with the second provider. Let them know you’re looking for a second opinion. Make sure you give them any relevant background information they may find helpful.

  3. Send your medical records
    Your medical records and lab results will be sent to the second provider. This will help them understand your medical history and give them information on the types of care you’ve already received. Unsure where to begin? Your healthcare provider may be able to help with this step. 

  4. Consider the timing
    If you’re thinking about getting a second opinion, time is a factor. “The most important thing is that it should be timely and not delay care,” Dr. Levaka says. If getting a second opinion could put your care on hold, it may be best not to make that appointment.

  5. Write everything down
    While you’re at your appointment, it may be helpful to take notes. Jot down important points or specific answers to any questions you may have.

  6. Ask them to send a report
    After your consultation, ask the second provider to send visit notes to your original doctor. You can even ask for both providers to discuss their findings to help guide your decision.

Weighing your options

Your second consultation may give you a lot to think about. Perhaps there’s new information or treatment options to consider. Or, you may get confirmation that your treatment is on the right track, which can be reassuring.

“I think it’s really important for the patient to be confident in the treatment course that’s being chosen,” says Dr. Mackley. “They should think, ‘This is the best decision I can make for myself going forward.’ If I’m treating someone, I want them to feel good about the process. Together we’re making the best decision for them and their care.”

While getting a second opinion might sound like it could raise more questions, your healthcare team will help you sort through any new information you receive. 

“The most important thing is to educate yourself when you’re going down this path,” Dr. Mackley advises. “Listen to your inner voice. There’s peace of mind that comes with being empowered.”

Next steps:

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