Getting a second opinion

A second opinion means asking a different doctor whether they agree with your diagnosis or treatment. Find out more about what is involved.

How your treatment is planned

Your multidisciplinary team (MDT) is a group of specialists who work together to plan your treatment. The MDT looks at national treatment guidelines or the latest evidence for the type of cancer you have. It uses that information to plan the most suitable treatment for you.

Many people are happy with their treatment plan, but some people want a second opinion.

How to get a second opinion

If you want a second opinion, your GP or cancer doctor usually refers you to another doctor for this.

If you are referred for a second opinion, your medical information will be sent to the new cancer doctor. This will include the results of any scans and tests, and details of any previous treatments you have had. If needed, the new cancer doctor can ask for more information from the original doctor and hospital.

Getting a second opinion takes time and may involve travelling to a different hospital. It may delay your treatment. And if you are unwell, it may be difficult to travel. It is important to think about the possible benefits and disadvantages of getting a second opinion. Talk to your team about how it might affect your wellbeing.

After your second opinion, if you want to be treated under the second doctor, this will need to be formally agreed and arranged with them.

What is a second opinion?

A second opinion means asking a different GP or cancer doctor whether they agree with your diagnosis or treatment. This usually involves going to a different hospital or GP surgery.

You can ask your cancer doctor to refer you for a second opinion. The NHS does not have to provide a second opinion. But you have the right to ask for one and most doctors will be happy to refer you.

Before asking for a second opinion, it is a good idea to ask your GP, cancer doctor or specialist nurse to go over your diagnosis and explain anything you do not understand.

If you are unhappy with your diagnosis or would like to consider a different course of treatment, you can discuss this with them. Your healthcare team will be happy to explain things. In many cases, there may be no need for a second opinion.

It may help to take someone with you to these appointments, so they can help you remember what is said. You might also prefer to write down your concerns before your appointment, so you feel more prepared. Or you can ask to record the meeting on your telephone, with everyone’s permission.

Here are some of the reasons why you might ask for another appointment or a second opinion:

  • You are unsure about your diagnosis

    If you are unsure about your diagnosis, it is important to talk to your cancer doctor about any concerns you have. They can go through the results of any tests with you to explain what they have found. You should be able to ask for a written copy of your test results before the appointment.

  • You do not understand everything you have been told

    Many people find it difficult to take information in when they are anxious or upset. If you are unsure about what you have been told, ask for another appointment so that you can go through the information again.

  • To make sure the treatment you have been offered is the best option for you

    It is important to let your cancer doctor know about any treatment preferences you have. Knowing what is important to you may affect which treatment you are offered. You may want to make another appointment or ask for a second opinion to confirm that your treatment is right for you.

  • You are unhappy with the recommended treatment

    You may have heard or read that another treatment is better than the one planned for you. It is important to remember that even if you have the same type of cancer as someone else, the same treatment may not be suitable for you.

    For example, the cancer may be at a different stage, or they may have other medical conditions to consider. Your doctor should be able to explain why they have recommended a particular treatment for you.

  • You find it difficult to talk to your doctor or specialist

    If you find it difficult to talk to your GP or cancer doctor, it may help to tell them this. You could ask for an appointment with someone else in their team, for example a registrar, a specialist nurse, or another GP in the practice.

    We have more information about having difficult conversations with your healthcare team.

Benefits and disadvantages of getting a second opinion

There are benefits and disadvantages of getting a second opinion.

Possible benefits

  • If both doctors agree about your diagnosis and treatment, this may help you feel more confident about their plan for your treatment and care.
  • You may find that you get on better with a different doctor and have more confidence in what they say.
  • You may be offered different treatments, or treatment as part of a clinical trial.

Possible disadvantages

  • Waiting for a second opinion may mean your treatment is delayed. The person you ask for a second opinion will also need to get information from your first doctor, which can take time. You could ask your current cancer doctor if a delay in treatment may cause you any harm.
  • The news about your diagnosis or treatment may not be what you hoped for. This can be upsetting, whether the news is the same or different to what you had before.
  • If you are offered a different treatment, you may be asked to decide which treatment to have. Some people find this difficult and worry about whether they will make the right decision.
  • You may have to travel a long way to a different hospital to meet another specialist, or to have your treatment at that hospital. This might be difficult and may mean extra travelling costs.

Preparing for your second opinion appointment

It can help to prepare for your appointment by thinking about what you want to get from it. It may help to write down some questions beforehand, to make sure you remember to ask everything.

It can also help to take a family member or friend with you, so they can help you remember what is said. They can also write notes for you. You can also record the meeting, if everyone agrees.

Here are some examples of questions to ask when getting a second opinion.

  • If the second opinion differs from the original one, what is the reason for this?
  • Do I need any treatment?
  • Are there other treatments I could have?
  • What are the side effects of these other treatments?
  • What impact might the treatments have on my life?
  • How long will I have treatment for?
  • Will I need to have my treatment at another hospital?

It is helpful to take any clinical letters or other information you have been given to your second opinion appointment. This will help the cancer doctor to understand what you have already been told.

Difficulty getting a referral for a second opinion

If you find it difficult to get a referral for a second opinion, you may be able to get help from patient advice services. These are different depending on where you live in the UK:

You can get the phone number of your patient advice service from the hospital switchboard. Or your local Citizens Advice in England Scotland and Wales may be able to advise you.

About our information

  • This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been approved by members of Macmillan’s Centre of Clinical Expertise.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

The language we use

We want everyone affected by cancer to feel our information is written for them.

We want our information to be as clear as possible. To do this, we try to:

  • use plain English
  • explain medical words
  • use short sentences
  • use illustrations to explain text
  • structure the information clearly
  • make sure important points are clear.

We use gender-inclusive language and talk to our readers as ‘you’ so that everyone feels included. Where clinically necessary we use the terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ or ‘male’ and ‘female’. For example, we do so when talking about parts of the body or mentioning statistics or research about who is affected.

You can read more about how we produce our information here.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 01 July 2023
Next review: 01 July 2026
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

This means it is easy to use, up-to-date and based on the latest evidence. Learn more about how we produce our information.