Managing Different Opinions

If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, you may wonder if you should seek a second opinion about your diagnosis and treatment options. Second opinions may confirm your diagnosis and provide invaluable information about your cancer.  

Many people ask for second opinions after a cancer diagnosis as a way to confirm the findings and explore the best choices for treatment. It’s normal to wonder if another doctor could offer better treatment options for your unique medical needs.  

What if the second opinion you receive is different from your first doctor’s opinion? This does happen occasionally, but differing opinions could increase your confusion and worry. Fortunately, you can help make sense of this unique situation by keeping all your options in mind.  

See your first doctor again

It might be helpful to ask the first doctor you saw to discuss the second opinion with you. He or she can examine any new findings and may agree with the second opinion. If possible, ask both doctors to review your information together.

Ask your doctors how they formed their opinions

When you’re reviewing your diagnosis and treatment options with your physicians, you can ask each to explain how they arrived at their conclusions. Both doctors should explain how they interpreted any laboratory or other test results. They should also share whether professional guidelines or research initiatives are factors in their decision-making and treatment planning process.  

You can also ask your doctors how they have treated patients in similar situations in the past. Their experience in working with people with cancer may heavily influence their preferred treatment options, especially if they have consistently seen certain treatments that are more effective than others.  

See a third specialist

It may be necessary to consult a third cancer specialist if an agreement cannot be reached. One option you might want to consider is a medical oncologist who specializes in your specific tumor type. While oncologists are all knowledgeable on matters related to cancer, some oncologists are more specific in their work  for example, there are oncologists who exclusively treat breast cancer. They may be even more knowledgeable about your condition and the options available to treat it.

Do your research

If your doctors cannot arrive at an agreement, it might be helpful to do your own research on the latest treatment guidelines. You can find information on treatment guidelines for a variety of cancers, written in patient-friendly language, using the National Cancer Institute’s (NCI) PDQ® Treatment Guidelines or the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) Treatment Guidelines. In addition, the American Cancer Society has a wealth of resources for patients and caregivers. You can discuss what you find with your doctors. 

Ask other patients or support groups

It can be beneficial to speak with other people who have had the same type of cancer, or with members of cancer support groups. Others may be able to help have a conversation with your doctor based on their experiences and outcomes.  

Even though differing opinions can cause confusion and stress, they can help you learn more about your condition and help you make informed decisions about your treatment. Encouraging open communication, doing your own research, and exploring options that were successful for others can help inform many treatment-related decisions.   



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