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Getting a Second Opinion

Some melanoma patients may want to get a second opinion. Getting a second opinion may help you better understand your diagnosis and help determine a treatment plan that is best for you. Remember that it is your right as a patient to get a second opinion. Even though asking a doctor for a second opinion may be intimidating, most doctors treat such requests as routine.

  • A second opinion is when a second physician reviews your initial physician’s melanoma diagnosis and treatment plan. A second opinion should take into consideration the initial physician’s findings, such as your pathology report, the stage of your cancer, your physical condition, and the proposed treatment plan. The second physician will then offer an opinion on both your diagnosis and treatment.
  • Second opinions are often a part of cancer management. However, when you go about getting your second opinion, it is important to keep your primary physician informed so that everyone is on the same page and everyone has the same clinical information.
  • One of the best places to obtain a second opinion is through a cancer center. At a cancer center, you have access to a multidisciplinary team which includes many cancer experts including surgeons, oncologists, and radiations therapists. Second opinions from a multidisciplinary team at a cancer center can provide a very comprehensive review of a diagnosis and treatment plan.

When You Should Consider a Second Opinion

There are specific situations in which a second opinion is advisable. The following suggestions can help you decide if you wish to seek a second opinion.

When it comes to a diagnosis you should seek a second opinion if:

  • You don’t understand your diagnosis or your having trouble understanding and communicating with your doctor.
  • Your diagnosis was made by a non-cancer physician, or one without expertise in melanoma.

When it comes to a treatment plan you should seek a second opinion if:

  • Your doctor gives you several different treatment options
  • You don’t feel that all the treatment options have been explored
  • Your health insurance plan requires a second opinion before having a particular treatment
  • Your doctor recommends that you seek a second opinion
  • Your treatment plan involves a clinical trial.
  • Your treatment plan involves aggressive treatment.
  • There is a lack of treatment options for your melanoma.

How to Get a Second Opinion

There are a number of ways to find a doctor for a second opinion:

  • When you are referred to a specialist. At cancer centers, you may have access to several specialists, who often work together as a team.
  • The Cancer Information Service, at 1-800-4-CANCER, provides a list of nearby treatment centers.
  • The American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) has a list of doctors who have met certain education and training requirements and have passed specialty examinations. The Official ABMS Directory of Board Certified Medical Specialists lists doctors’ names along with their specialty and their educational background. The directory is available in most public libraries. Also, ABMS offers this information on the Internet at http://www.abms.org. (Click on “Who’s Certified.”)
  • A local or state medical society, a nearby hospital, or a medical school can also provide the names of specialists.
  • Use AIM at Melanoma’s tool to Find a Specialist above. 

Insurance Coverage

Unfortunately, a second opinion may not always be covered by a healthcare insurance company. Many healthcare insurance companies do understand the importance of second opinions and routinely pay for them. In fact, some healthcare insurance companies insist on a second opinion before treatment is initiated (especially if the primary physician recommends an expensive or novel treatment).

However, in the case of health maintenance organizations (HMOs), a second opinion may not be covered. If you are a member of an HMO and you are not covered for a second opinion, it is strongly advised that you consider seeking a second opinion.

For more information on the value of second opinions, please click here to refer to a recent article.

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