Getting a second opinion can make a huge difference with your cancer diagnosis

Getting a Second Opinion

Patients diagnosed with cancer make life-altering decisions under stress. Remember to pause and take a deep breath as you arrange to talk with our doctors at Roswell Park. It’s important to seek a second opinion before treatment begins to ensure your diagnosis is correct and your treatment options are appropriate.

Between 11-18% of the second opinions we provide for cancer patients from outside Roswell Park involve a change of diagnosis. These changes may include:

  • A reversal of diagnosis: you were diagnosed with cancer but don’t actually have cancer; or you have cancer but were told no cancer was present;
  • Identification of a different type of cancer than you were diagnosed with; this information can dramatically alter treatment options.

A second opinion is particularly important if you have a hard-to-diagnose cancer or a rare type of cancer and if your cancer offers multiple treatment options. A second opinion also helps if you wish to be considered for a clinical trial.

Not All Cancers are Alike

A tumor that forms in your breast isn’t necessarily the same as other breast tumors and may need to be treated differently. Distinguishing between sub-types of cancer, and making treatment choices accordingly, means a patient with a more aggressive disease should be offered more aggressive therapy, while one with a lower risk of recurrence may want to avoid the expense and side effects of a treatment that is probably not needed.

Red Flags that Indicate You Need a Second Opinion

When should you seek a second opinion? It’s always a good idea, but an independent review is especially important in these situations:

  • Your physician has not provided you with a full, clear explanation of your pathology report, in a language you understand.
  • Your physician says you don’t need a second opinion. A good doctor will suggest you get another opinion if there are questions about your treatment or diagnosis. If your physician is offended, find a new doctor.
  • Your physician wants you to start chemotherapy or surgery tomorrow. Almost no cancer requires that kind of immediacy; exceptions are acute leukemia, a tumor that is compressing a vital structure, and certain other rare conditions. If your physician pressures you to do something immediately, seek a second opinion.

Questions to Ask Yourself

If you’re not sure whether to ask for a second opinion, consider these questions:

  • Am I confident in the diagnosis or treatment options I’ve been given?
  • Am I comfortable with my treating physician?
  • Has my physician clearly explained all treatment options — not just ones he or she prefers?
  • Are there clinical research studies that offer new treatments for my cancer?
  • Was my cancer diagnosed at an office or community hospital or in a comprehensive cancer center?
  • Does my insurance plan require a second opinion? If not, what type of coverage does it provide for second opinions?

Arranging for a Second Opinion

Good physicians welcome second opinions, and in many cases, the secondary review confirms your initial diagnosis and your doctor’s plan. Telling your doctor you’d like a second opinion makes it easier for the consulting physician to discuss your condition with your doctor and obtain additional information that may be needed. At Roswell Park, most patients who need a second opinion are seen within a week.

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Changing your Cancer Care Provider

If you are receiving your cancer treatment elsewhere and are considering switching to Roswell Park for your care, we are here to make the transition as seamless as possible.

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