Getting a Second Opinion in Cancer Care


After getting diagnosed with cancer, life feels like a whirlwind. You are pushed into a world you have never navigated before. All of a sudden, now you must become an expert on understanding your diagnosis, choosing a lifesaving treatment team, learning medical terminology, making treatment decisions, understanding surgical options, and so much more. Don’t be afraid to take a step back getting a second opinion if you want another treatment team’s view on your options and choices.

“I got three opinions who all gave me different treatment options. I chose the doctor who told me I was not just a number to him.”—Allison Rosen, stage II colorectal cancer survivor

Seeking a second opinion can help to ensure you make the best possible decision for you. It can also help you feel confident that you’re making an informed decision about your care. In many cases, a second opinion can make all the difference in a patient’s outlook. A study conducted at Mayo Clinic found that nearly one-third of patients received different diagnoses after seeking out a second opinion! Also, findings from a survey of more than 500 physicians found that 85% of specialists recommended a second opinion as an essential step in forming a course of action for managing personal health care.

“I absolutely seeked a second opinion. If I went with my first opinion, my life would be drastically different today.”—Marisa Maddox, stage III rectal cancer survivor

“We had a great oncologist from the start. We pursued a second opinion four years in to ensure we hadn’t left treatment options on the table. Both doctors agreed we followed the right treatment path.”—Traci Bryan, caregiver

5 Steps to Take When Getting a Second Opinion

It may seem daunting to do one more thing while you are fighting cancer. So here are 5 steps to take when getting a second opinion.

  1. Research to find the right team.

Research practitioners near you who specialize in your diagnosis. The Fight CRC Provider Finder is a digital tool that helps patients find oncologists, radiologists, surgeons, and gastroenterologists who treat high volumes of colorectal cancer patients. You can choose by location, type of provider, experience, or clinic and hospital name.

And just as important as your treatment team, It’s also important to find your tribe: People who have been through what you are going through and who can be a safe place to ask questions or seek support. Search online and find your people.

  1. Ask Your Gastroenterologist (GI).

One of the first people you will see when you wake up from your colorectal cancer screening is your GI. Don’t be shy about asking them which doctors or treatment centers they would seek out if they or a loved one had cancer. Also ask what your next steps should be. Do you need bloodwork or scans before going to see your treatment team? Most GIs will be happy to let you know where and how to proceed.

  1. Talk to your primary care doctor.

A colorectal cancer diagnosis is scary. If you feel uneasy about your diagnosis and/or treatment team, then discuss this with your primary care doctor. Ask for a second opinion. Don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor openly and be honest about your fears and concerns.

  1. Make an appointment.

Once you’ve chosen a provider, make an appointment. If your first doctor is unable to provide you with the referral, then seek out the specialist independently. Also be sure to ask before your appointment what you will need to bring with you to your first appointment, and be sure to have taken steps to have all scans, tests, or bloodwork results that you will need.

  1. Gather all relevant information.

Schedule appointments and gather results. Collect any pertinent information such as previous medical records, test results, and other documents. Additionally, make sure to bring a list of any medications you are taking and any allergies/sensitivities you have. Also bring a list of any questions you may have. It’s OK to ask a doctor, “Is this the standard of care?” or “Do you ever deviate from the standard of care?” While overall treatment may include chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery, it is important to know why your doctor is working in the order they are, or how many rounds of chemo and radiation you may need.

Getting a second opinion was the best decision I have ever made.” —Denelle Suranski, stage II rectal cancer survivor

A second opinion can help to ensure diagnoses are accurate and that the recommended treatment is the best plan for you. Many patients with cancer find taking a course of action quickly is their priority and sometimes don’t have the time to get a second opinion. Finally, keep in mind that it’s important to be comfortable and confident with the treatment your team is recommending.

“No, I did not seek a second opinion. Time was of the essence with my tumor size and location.” —Kimberly Holiday Coleman, stage II colorectal cancer survivor

“No, I didn't. I didn't have enough time, plus I had a really great doctor.”—April Gardner, stage II colon cancer survivor

Often patients are happy with their doctors and course of treatment from the beginning. Only you can decide what’s the right course of action for you.

“I didn’t get a second opinion. My oncologist and surgeon specialize in colorectal cancer, so I know their research is specific.”—Alice Marshall, stage IV colorectal cancer survivor

“I did not get a second opinion. Fortunately I had a great doctor recommended to me from the start.” —Sheila Schrack, stage III colorectal cancer survivor

With the right research and reliable references and resources, and even talking to people with experiences similar to yours, despite going through one of the most difficult times of your life, you will be able to do it with confidence and strength knowing you are in the best hands who have your interest at heart.

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