Getting a Second Opinion
Many people diagnosed with a serious or rare illness – such as late-stage melanoma – want to get a second opinion on their diagnosis and/or their treatment options. In melanoma, because of the fast-moving pace of research, second opinions can be a critical step – giving you a different perspective needed to make the best, most informed decision for you. This is especially true if you are not being seen by a doctor who regularly sees patients with your type of melanoma.
This applies to all patients – at all stages of melanoma.
Many patients worry that they may offend their doctor or feel uncomfortable about asking about second opinions, but getting a second opinion about your condition or care is one of your most important rights as a patient.
A second opinion can help shed light on different treatment options, clinical trials that may be a good fit, or they may make you feel more at ease by confirming your diagnosis and the initial treatment plan.
Who gets a second opinion?
Second opinions are common when patients are diagnosed with a serious or rare condition. They are particularly helpful for patients who are seen outside of a NCI-Designated Cancer Center. In addition, melanoma specialists are often more aware of any newly approved treatments and available clinical trials that you may be a good candidate for.
Why might a patient with early-stage melanoma want a second opinion?
Someone with an early-stage melanoma may want a second opinion to confirm a diagnosis (such as type or stage) or on the proposed treatment plan. For example, some doctors regularly perform Mohs surgery for melanoma in Situ (stage 0), while others do not.
Melanoma researchers are keenly interested in the importance of adjuvant (after surgery) and neo-adjuvant (before surgery) treatment for melanoma. A second opinion from a doctor who regularly sees a large number of melanoma patients – and is up to date on the latest research – may give you greater insight into clinical trials for these and other approaches.
Where should I go for a second opinion?
The person who diagnosed or is treating your melanoma may be able to give you recommendations for where you could go for a second opinion. It is important that a second opinion be obtained from a doctor who has experience treating people with melanoma.
In addition, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) – part of the National Institutes of Health – has designated 70 centers throughout the country as “NCI-Designated Cancer Centers.” These 70 centers are recognized for their scientific leadership, resources, and the depth and breadth of their research in basic, clinical, and/or population science. Click here to find a NCI-Designated Cancer Center in your area.
How do I make the most of my second opinion appointment?
Before your visit, get copies of all of your medical records to bring with you. This includes all tests, reports, imaging, or blood work that may have already happened. You should also bring information about your current treatment plan. This will help maximize your visit and reduce duplicative testing – which can cost you money and time. Some doctors may request copies of your records in advance of your visit.
You also should write down any questions in advance. This is a great opportunity to ask questions, get clarity, and to feel confident in how you decide and choose to move forward.
Be prepared to take notes, or even record the conversations during your visit. Many people also find it helpful to charge a friend or family member with notetaking.
When is asking about a second opinion appropriate?
Second opinions can be helpful at any point of time – at the time of diagnosis, when making decisions about your treatment plan, or if your treatment doesn’t seem to be working. It is your right as a patient to get a second opinion.
However, getting too many opinions (3, 4 or more), such that they are causing delays of weeks or months, can hamper your treatment and overall prognosis. Experts suggest setting a ‘treatment decision deadline’ to keep you on target.
Will my insurance pay for a second opinion?
Most health insurance will pay for a second opinion for medically necessary procedures. Some, may even pay for a third opinion. To avoid surprises, contact your insurer for details about what they cover and about any procedures required in advance.
How do I ask for a second opinion?
Most doctors won’t have a problem about you asking for a second opinion. Here are some suggestions to get that conversation started:
- How certain are you about the diagnosis? Should an additional expert review my pathology slides?
- If you were in my position, who would you see about a second opinion?
- A second opinion would really give me confidence that I’m doing everything I can – who would you suggest I see or look to?
- Before we start the course of treatment, I’d like to talk to someone about other options. Will you help me?
Were you or a loved one just diagnosed with melanoma? We have the resources to help. Get Started here.