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Why Patients Should Get a Second Opinion Before Cancer Treatment

Read time: 3 minutes

Doctor talking to patient

There are many options for cancer treatment. As cancer guidelines often have different pathways, doctors may not always agree on which one is right for you. So, it is important to get a second opinion. More expertise in the decision-making process benefits you.

What is a second opinion?

A second opinion is when a patient sees another doctor within the same specialty after their initial doctor. The purpose of this second consultation is to get another doctor’s thoughts on the diagnosis or treatment plan. A second opinion may be the same as the first or provide a different opinion.

What is the benefit of being seen at Huntsman Cancer Institute, an NCI-designated Cancer Center?

Patients with a cancer diagnosis should be seen by a provider at an NCI-designated Cancer Center, such as the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah. Huntsman Cancer Institute provides healthcare services to the Mountain West.

NCI-designated Cancer Centers provide access to cutting-edge clinical trials, new technology, and experts who write cancer treatment guidelines. Through team meetings that are based on individual cancer types, your doctor will consult with providers and specialty surgeons to determine what treatment plan is right for you. Huntsman Cancer Institute specialists are also trained in using minimally invasive treatments, like robotic surgery.

Who should get a second opinion?

All cancer patients can benefit from receiving a second opinion. However, second opinions are especially important for people with complex cancers and risk factors or medical conditions that may make treatment difficult. It is important to be seen by specialists who research and regularly treat your specific cancer type.  No doctor should be insulted that you would like another opinion before proceeding with potentially life-changing treatment.

What type of questions should patients ask their doctors?

It is important for patients to play an active role in their cancer care. Cancer patients should ask questions about their treatment plan to determine if they are receiving the best care. Patients should ask their doctors the same questions and compare notes to help them decide how to move forward.

Here are some questions to keep in mind:

  • Is my cancer diagnosis correct?
  • Are there other treatments I should be considering?
  • Am I eligible for any clinical trials?
  • Is surgery the best option and why?
  • What surgical approach are you going to use?
  • Is this surgery minimally-invasive? If not, why?
  • Do you specialize in this type of surgery?
  • What should I expect after surgery?

“If there is something that is substantially different or better that the second-opinion doctor can offer you, keep that in mind. It may be hours away, but this is your health. It is the rest of your life, and it is worth it.” – Brian Mitzman, MD, FACS, FCCP

Does insurance cover a second opinion?

Most health insurance plans, including Medicaid and Medicare, cover a second opinion. Insurance plans may require even a second opinion. Some health insurance plans within the Salt Lake valley, such as SelectHealth, may require patients to first see an in-network provider but will cover out-of-network providers for second opinions. Patients should talk to their insurance provider to understand what is covered.

Cancer touches all of us.