HPV Cancer Resources

Helpful Information for Parents, Patients, Partners, and Providers

Helpful Information for Parents, Patients, Partners, and Providers

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When Shoud You Get A Second Opinion?

I’m a big believer in getting a second opinion about your cancer diagnosis and proposed treatment. That’s because doctors can and do have different opinions; much of medicine is very much about “art” as much as it is about science. A different opinion doesn’t necessarily mean one doctor is right and the other is wrong (although that can be true). They can simply be having different interpretation of what lab tests and scans are telling them, as well as the different treatment options available at their hospital. You don’t need a reason to get a second opinion, and no good doctor should object to you getting one. What's more, if the two doctors you see significantly disagree, then it might be wise to get a third opinion. Keep in mind, too, that the second opinion is not necessarily the right opinion. Your goal is to keep asking questions until the diagnosis and treatment make sense to you. You will also want to find a doctor who you are comfortable dealing with, who’s on the same wavelength as you are, and in whom you have great confidence. Remember that you’ll be seeing them a lot, maybe for years, and your life could literally be in their hands.

Get a second opinion if you are diagnosed with cancer. Cancer is a very serious disease. Getting a cancer diagnosis can be confusing and overwhelming. This is a life-changing event for most people. It’s important to be as informed as possible about your prognosis as well as the possible treatment options available to you. These days it’s simply not possible for any one doctor to be completely informed about the findings from every single study and clinical trial in the country. Keep in mind that cancer patients are often treated by a team, which might include a surgeon, radiation oncologist, nutritionist, physical therapist, and many others. Even initial diagnoses are often looked over by a group of doctors before a decision can be reached. Because doctors are only human, you need to make sure to advocate for yourself. Getting additional opinions improves the chances that you will get the best treatment plan possible for you. Some health insurance providers actually require a second opinion when it comes to a cancer diagnosis, and that’s a good thing. Because some hospitals will develop “groupthink” over time (where they all tend to think alike because it’s easier than constantly challenging each other), get your second opinion from a doctor at a different hospital or medical practice. You’ll also want to make sure to get a second opinion if you’re told the first suggested diagnosis is not definitive. Finally, while a diagnosis can be correct, there can be different options for treatment, and that’s especially true for head and neck cancers. Both surgery or chemotherapy plus radiation are options for smaller cancers, and different doctors will have different opinions of which one of these is the right one for you. Sometimes, the choice will be yours once the pros and cons of each approach have been presented.

Get a second opinion if you’re concerned about a misdiagnosis. Researchers have found that the rates of misdiagnosis and mistreatment are higher than you might think they would be. Lawyers suggest that approximately ten to twenty percent of cancer diagnoses are wrong every year in the U.S., but this estimate is from a biased group and can’t be relied upon. These numbers are not very reliable because many incorrect diagnoses never get reported. It also includes overdiagnosis, where someone is told they have cancer, only to find out later that they don’t. Some cancers are easier to misdiagnose than others, and other times it’s the correct overall diagnosis, but an incorrect diagnosis on the staging of the cancer. It’s a complex subject, but these misdiagnoses do happen.

Get a second opinion if you have had a diagnosis saying there’s nothing wrong with you, but your symptoms continue. No one knows your body better than you do. And if your symptoms persist (even after getting treatment), or if you’re told they don’t mean anything, it may be time to seek the advice of different doctors and specialists. If something doesn’t seem quite right, it’s up to you to speak up, to be your own best advocate. The only way you are going to get a treatment that stands a good chance of working is if you get the right diagnosis. So if you your symptoms are not going away, do not settle for wondering why that is. Reach out to other doctors for their opinions.

Get a second opinion if the recommended treatment is risky, involves surgery, or the potential treatment has lifelong consequences. Cancer treatments meet all of these criteria. It’s not a good idea to agree to surgery or chemo and radiation without exploring your options. Some people feel that if a doctor suggests a procedure, they you have to agree to it. Keep in mind that it’s your body and your life; the doctor is not going to switch places with you if you’re unhappy with the outcome. Don’t forget you always will have a say in what treatment(s) you get. Being proactive and gathering more information will give you a greater degree of control over your treatment in the end.

Get a second opinion if your gut reaction tells you something is wrong. Maybe you’re not comfortable with your diagnosis or the recommended treatment plan. You should never agree to a procedure or treatment plan when you don't feel good about it (not that you have to look forward to surgery, radiation treatments, or chemotherapy). Trust your gut and gather more information from reliable sources (e.g. American Cancer Society; Mayo Clinic, MD Anderson; the NIH). Talk the situation over with friends and family. Meet with a new doctor. Learn about your specific type of cancer, how it’s generally treated, and how patients usually respond to treatment. You shouldn’t feel like you have to follow a doctor's orders without asking questions and gathering more information. Very few health care decisions have to be made on the spot, so take a little time. If something doesn't feel right, then research your situation and talk with another doctor.


Just to be clear: I am NOT a doctor. The information contained in this website is NOT intended as a recommendation for the self management of health problems, medical conditions, or wellness. It is not intended to endorse or recommend any particular type of medical treatment, physician, or treatment facility. Should any reader have any health care related questions, I strongly suggest you call or consult your physician or healthcare provider before looking into other things on the internet. The information contained in this website should NOT be used by any reader to disregard medical and/or health related advice or provide a basis to delay consultation with a physician or a qualified healthcare provider. HPV Cancer Resources disclaims any liability based on information provided in this website.