Why is a second opinion important?

Before starting treatment, many patients who are diagnosed with melanoma opt to ask a second doctor about their diagnosis and possible treatments (known as seeking a second opinion). You will usually have a short period of time after being given a diagnosis to make a decision about your treatment – this can be a good time to seek a second opinion from a melanoma specialist.

What is a second opinion?

For patients who seek a second opinion, the second doctor will confirm the diagnosis and review the treatment plan. Getting a second opinion from a doctor who specializes in melanoma can help you to understand your diagnosis and the different treatment options, including which clinical trials and/or novel treatments may be available to you. Getting a second opinion can be particularly important if your diagnosis was made by a doctor without expertise in melanoma or who does not offer clinical trials.

Some patients worry that getting a second opinion will offend their regular doctor – this is not the case! Getting a second opinion is a routine part of cancer care today. Most doctors are comfortable with this practice and often appreciate a second opinion, particularly if they do not have much expertise in melanoma. If you decide you would like a second opinion, it is a good idea to talk to your current doctor. S/he may be able to recommend a specialist for you to get in touch with. In some cases, your regular doctor can collaborate with a melanoma specialist to help you achieve the best outcomes.

Many insurance plans will pay for a second opinion if your doctor suspects a cancer diagnosis – in fact, some even require a second opinion before treatment can begin. Be sure to check what costs your insurance plan will cover before making an appointment.

You can read more about getting a second opinion here.

Is a major cancer center a good choice, if you can get there?

Large cancer centers have doctors who specialize in melanoma and are familiar with the most up-to-date treatment and research. Major cancer centers typically also offer more access to supportive services and clinical trials than a community hospital. But large cancer centers are not the only places where melanoma specialists practice and where clinical trials are offered. The key is to find a melanoma specialist near you and inquire about clinical trials with that specialist. Use AIM’s melanoma specialist database to search for a provider near you.

You can search for a melanoma specialist by state here.

Depending on where you live, seeing a melanoma specialist can mean traveling, but it is often worthwhile if you can manage it.

Will a second opinion be different from the first?

The second doctor may explain the diagnosis, prognosis, or treatment plan differently. Even if there is a standard treatment for your specific type and stage of melanoma, different doctors may favor slightly different approaches to treatment. The second doctor may also have access to more or different clinical trials, particularly if you see a specialist at a large cancer center.

On the other hand, the second doctor may confirm your original doctor’s diagnosis and treatment plan, which can be very reassuring.