Getting a Second Opinion About Your Cancer Care

Medically Reviewed By: Ann S. LaCasce, MD, MMSc

Following the sudden shock and abruptness of a cancer diagnosis, a person’s initial instinct may be to begin treatment right away. However, in some instances, it can be beneficial to get a second opinion first.

These secondary consultations — which usually happen with an oncologist (or cancer doctor) at a different hospital than the one a patient originally goes to — are important. Seeking a second opinion does not mean you have to transfer your care to the expert you consult with, but it can provide peace of mind. A second consultation can even catch anything that is originally missed.

“A second oncologist may see something different, be able to offer additional options, or provide further information on your disease,” explains Ann S. LaCasce, MD, MMSc, director of the Dana-Farber/Mass General Brigham Fellowship in Hematology/Oncology and an oncologist at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center. “Even in instances where nothing changes, it can be helpful to hear information explained by someone else.”

In some instances, it can be beneficial to get a second opinion before treatment.

How do I know if I need a second opinion?

Whether or not you should receive a second opinion is a personal decision only you can make. Factors such as the nature of your disease, travel, and financial feasibility can impact this choice.

For those who are able to do so, getting a second opinion can often be a valuable and positive experience.

  • Getting a second opinion can allow you to consult a specialist who truly understands and has studied your specific type of cancer. They will be able to offer advice, discuss the latest research, and review treatment plans with your specific case in mind.
  • Each hospital has access to their own database of available clinical trials. Seeking a second opinion allows to learn about, and possibly enroll in, a clinical trial specific to you.
  • By the time you see a second doctor, you’ve had a chance to at least somewhat process your diagnosis and prepare specific questions tailored to your disease. This additional time allows you to prepare ahead of time, weigh your options, and arrive with specific, pointed questions. If you’re still confused about what your diagnosis means, that’s OK, too. A specialist can take the time to explain your diagnosis and review available options.
  • Oftentimes, the oncologist will likely agree with what you were initially told. That’s OK too. Hearing the same information can be reassuring.

You can also seek a second opinion during or in between treatments. This may be helpful if the initial treatment did not work, or your cancer has returned.

Does it ever make sense to not get a second opinion?

It is never a bad idea to get a second opinion, and only you will know if you are comfortable with the idea. However, in many instances, it can be beneficial to begin treatment right away.

Traveling to another hospital may not be feasible, you may find a care team you like and trust, or your diagnosis may be straightforward and include a clear treatment path. However, even in “straightforward,” cases it can be helpful to talk with another expert, even if it’s just for peace of mind.

It’s also important to remember that even if you decide to begin treatment immediately you can still seek a second opinion while undergoing therapy. Doing so will allow you to confirm your current plan and discuss the next steps.

How many opinions are too many?

While getting a second opinion is a valuable experience, continuously reaching out to new experts can be counterproductive. If the second oncologist agrees with the initial treatment plan, that is likely the best course of action. If the two are vastly different, then it may be wise to consult a third expert.

Ultimately, each individual needs to pick someone they trust and are comfortable with. Getting the advice of too many experts can be paralyzing, and it is important to not unnecessarily delay care.

Do doctors get offended when you get a second opinion?

You should never avoid a second opinion out of fear of offending the initial oncologist. In fact, many will not only embrace this request, but even be able to refer you to someone else. Oncologists understand this is an intimate and important decision, and they will want to make sure you find someone you believe in and are comfortable working with.

“If my patients express an interest in a second opinion, I encourage them, and will even suggest someone to see,” LaCasce notes.

How to get a second opinion

The best way to get a second opinion is often by asking the original oncologist for a referral. If you are unhappy with their suggestion, or would like to see someone else, that’s OK too. You can also do your own research to find an institution or individual you’d like to see.

Most second opinions are covered by insurance. However, if you have insurance, be sure to check with your provider first.

Many hospitals, including Dana-Farber, offer online second opinions. Dana-Farber’s Online Second Opinion program lets adult patients from around the country — and around the world — get an expert second opinion from a Dana-Farber medical oncologist without traveling to Boston.

About the Medical Reviewer

Ann S. LaCasce, MD, MMSc

Ann LaCasce, MD, MMSc, Associate Professor of Medicine, is a lymphoma specialist and is the Director of the Dana-Farber/Mass General Brigham Fellowship in Hematology/Oncology.  She serves on the Alliance Lymphoma Committee, the National Cancer Comprehensive Lymphoma Guidelines Panel and the Lymphoma Research Foundation’s Scientific Advisory Committee.  

10 thoughts on “Getting a Second Opinion About Your Cancer Care”

  1. That’s what I did, best thing I did. Both of my oncologists are awesome! They respect each other and have no problem discussing my case and collaborating on big decisions. They keep me in the loop and get right back to me. We are a team and all my other doctors are included. Everyone should get a second opinion.

  2. A second opinion for cancer treatment options and care is crucial. Just as you would bring your car to a transmission specialist for transmission problems rather than a general mechanic, it makes sense to look for a oncologist specialist who knows your particular cancer. It’s no secret that DFCI has the very best!

    a few seconds ago

  3. I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in February 2009. I have had two autologous stem cell transplants, am doing Velcade and Doxil currently. Have done Revlimid and Pomalyst. My oncologist says I am running out of treatment options. I would like to have my oncologist send my medical records to you for a second opinion. How do I go about doing that? Thank you for your help.

  4. Not only are 2nd opinions vital but.also responding to questions on a hospitals website.which i never got. Generally speaking, why do you guys not have a SUBSTANTIAL part of any chemo care,aregime of nutritionthar not only replenishes.good. cells that have been slaughteref by chemo but also minimize sugar and drive that point home since cancer cells are fueld by blood and sugar? There is virtually.nothing new.except hammer chemo untilthe patient almost dies from the chemo.alone, mix in some localized radiation and do surgery whetever possible! Its been that way for decades and its time that cancer centers such as yours raise and include nutrition as a key factor in treatment!

    • Dear John —

      Thank you for your comment. Good nutrition is important before, during, and after cancer treatment. The Dana-Farber Nutrition Services team can help plan meals, provide healthy recipes, and offer tips on how to combat some treatment side effects. Our Eating Well During Cancer video series also provides information on how a diet can support your health and well being during and after cancer treatment.

      If you are looking for healthy recipes for cancer patients, check out our recipe library or our smartphone app.

      If you have any questions about healthy eating or nutrition for cancer patients, make sure to reach out through our Ask the Nutritionist page.

      I hope this is helpful and wish you the best.

  5. Hi, I have more a question than a comment. My other has been given a Cancer diagnosis which over the past week the doctors have brought up possible surgery to treat at the beginning but now a week later are saying it it not treatable and speaking of hospice and or nursing homes. No one can even tell me what type of cancer it is and I am not satisfied with the lack of treatment options and feel I need a 2nd opinion. My mothers treatment team has given me 24hours to make this choice as she can not stay at the hospital. My question is if Dana Fabar will take my mom as a transfer to their hospital and evaluate her condition and give treatment options.

    • Dear Christian —

      I’m sorry to hear about your mother’s health trouble. The procedure to get a second opinion at Dana-Farber is the same as becoming a new patient. If your mother is able to come to Boston to meet with our treatment team, please call 877-442-DFCI (877-442-3324) or fill out this online appointment request form:

      If your mother is not able to travel to Boston, Dana-Farber offers a program called Online Specialty Consults, which allows patients and physicians to confer with our specialists online about second opinions, treatment options, or clinical trials.

      Your mother will need to involve her local physician, who will register with the service and complete a patient history. One of our specialists, who will be chosen depending on your mother’s particular medical background, will review her case and then send a consultation report back to your mother’s physician.
      These links provide an overview of the process:

      I hope this is helpful. Wishing you all the best.

  6. I have metastatic breast cancer triple negative at age 51 . Dx dec 2016 . Abraxane just failed me and pet scan showed new growth . How do I get a phone consult with someone well versed in this type cancer or a person to person consult . What do I need to do ?

    • Hi Courtney,

      Thank you for your message. We are sorry to hear about your diagnosis.

      Unfortunately, we cannot provide any medical advice without a consultation. If you’d like to schedule an appointment with us, please read the information below.

      If you’re able to come to Boston to meet with our breast cancer treatment team, please call 877-442-3324 or fill out this online appointment request form:

      If you’re unable to travel to Boston, Dana-Farber offers the Online Second Opinion Program, which allows patients to get an expert second opinion from a Dana-Farber oncologist, without traveling to Boston.

      The Online Second Opinion program is secure, convenient, and confidential. The entire process is conducted online – including collecting your records – helping you avoid disruptions to their regular schedule, while also saving on travel and lodging costs in Boston.

      These links provide an overview of the process: (web section) (account open)

      Wishing you the best,

Comments are closed.