Getting a second opinion

Your treatment will be planned using national treatment guidelines. Even so, you may want another medical opinion about your diagnosis or treatment.

If you feel it will be helpful, you can ask your GP or specialist to refer you to another specialist for a second opinion. Getting a second opinion may delay the start of your treatment, so you and your doctor need to be confident that it will give you useful information.

If you do go for a second opinion, it may be a good idea to take a relative or friend with you. Have a list of questions ready, so you can make sure your concerns are covered during the discussion.

Common reasons why people want a second opinion are:

  • they have doubts about their diagnosis
  • they may not understand the information they have been given
  • they are not happy with the recommended treatment
  • they feel they cannot talk to the doctor or specialist about their diagnosis or treatment.

Why you might ask for a second opinion

Your GP and multidisciplinary team (MDT) will use national treatment guidelines to plan the most suitable treatment for you. Many people are happy that the best treatment has been planned for them, but some people want a second opinion.

The most common reasons for requesting a second opinion are:

You may have doubts about your diagnosis

Some people ask for a second opinion because they are worried that their GP or consultant may have incorrectly diagnosed their condition. In this case, it’s important to ask for a further appointment so that you can talk to your GP or consultant about any issues. It may help to write down your concerns and show them to the doctor. If you’re unsure about any test results, remember you should be able to ask for a written copy of them and for your doctor to explain them to you.

You may not understand the information you have been given

Doctors know that many people find it difficult to take information in when they are anxious or upset. You can always ask for another appointment so that you can go through the information again before going for a second opinion. Many hospital consultants have a nurse specialist working with them who you can either see or phone after your appointment if you need more information. It’s also a good idea to take a relative or friend with you so they can help you remember what was said.

You may not be happy with the treatment your doctor has recommended

This could be because you have heard from somebody, read in a newspaper or seen on the internet that another treatment is better. It’s 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. That’s why doctors plan treatment on an individual basis. If you are concerned about your treatment, ask for a further appointment with your original doctor. You can talk to them about your concerns. They should be able to explain to you why they have recommended a particular treatment for you.

You may not feel you can talk to your doctor or specialist about your diagnosis or treatment

Some people ask for a second opinion because they find it difficult to talk to their original doctor or hospital consultant. If you feel like this, try telling them that you’re finding it hard to talk with them. This can often help. Or you could ask to see someone else in their team – for example the consultant’s registrar, a nurse specialist, or another GP in the practice.

We have a page about talking to healthcare staff, which has some helpful tips.

Getting a second opinion

GP David Plume explains getting a second opinion about your diagnosis or treatment.

About our cancer information videos

Getting a second opinion

GP David Plume explains getting a second opinion about your diagnosis or treatment.

About our cancer information videos

Advantages and disadvantages of getting a second opinion

Before you decide whether you want a second opinion, you may want to think about some of the advantages and disadvantages.

Possible advantages

  • If both doctors are in agreement about your diagnosis and treatment, this will help you feel more confident about their decision.
  • You may find that you get on better with a different doctor and have more confidence in what they say.
  • You may be offered a treatment that hasn’t been suggested before, or a newer treatment that is part of a clinical trial.
  • You may be offered a wider choice of treatments by the second doctor, so you can decide which treatment to have.

Possible disadvantages

  • Having a second opinion doesn't mean you will be seen or treated more quickly than anyone else. Your treatment may be delayed by waiting to see another consultant. The person you see for a second opinion will also need to get information from your first doctor, which can delay treatment. You may need to think carefully about having a second opinion if a delay is likely to be harmful to you or reduce your chances of successful treatment.
  • You may find it upsetting being told the same – or different – news about your diagnosis and treatment if it’s not what you were hoping for.
  • 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. However, it’s important to remember that there is no right or wrong decision.
  • You may have to travel a long way to a different hospital to see another specialist and you may then need to have your treatment at that hospital. This might not be easy for you or your family and may mean you have extra travelling costs.

How to get a second opinion

If you feel a second opinion will be helpful for you, ask to be referred to another doctor

If you want a second opinion from a GP, you can ask to see another GP at your surgery or you could consider changing your surgery. You may want to discuss this with the practice manager.

There are different ways of seeking a second opinion from a hospital consultant or specialist. You can ask your GP to refer you for a second opinion, either on the NHS or privately. Your GP will be able to refer you to someone not chosen by your current specialist. This will make sure that you get an independent second opinion. Some people do their own research to find the name of a consultant they think they would like to see.

Or you can ask your current consultant or specialist to refer you for a second opinion. For funding reasons, your current specialist may not be able to refer you to certain other specialists. They may ask you to discuss getting a second opinion with your GP who will have more freedom to refer you to a specialist you both feel is right.

People often worry that seeking a second opinion will upset the doctor or that they will be seen as a bad patient. However, many doctors, consultants or other specialists are happy for you to get a second opinion. They know that it can be helpful for some people.

Relatives and carers can also request a second opinion on your behalf, but only with your consent. When you are referred for a second opinion, your relevant medical information will be sent to the new doctor or specialist. This information will include your scans, test results and any previous treatments. If needed, the new specialist can also ask for information from the original doctor and hospital.

If, after your second opinion, you want the second doctor, consultant or specialist to treat you, this will have to be formally arranged with them.

Preparing for your second opinion appointment

It can help to prepare for your appointment by thinking about what you want to get out of it. You could write down some questions to make sure your concerns are covered during the discussion. It can also help to take a relative or friend with you.

Here are some questions you may want to ask:

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

Difficulty getting a referral for a second opinion

If for some reason you find it difficult to get a referral for a second opinion you may be able to get help from the hospital patient advice service. In England, the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) may be able to help. Your Patient and Client Council may be able to give you advice in Northern Ireland, the Patient Advice and Support Service may be able to advise you in Scotland or your local Community Health Council may give you advice in Wales.

You can get the phone number of your patient advice service from the hospital switchboard. Alternatively, your local Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) may be able to advise you.

Useful organisations

We have a list of organisations that may be able to offer you support and information. Our database of useful organisations lists organisations that provide both practical and emotional support, including information on health, benefits and financial help.

Back to Making treatment decisions

How treatment is planned

A team of health professionals will work with you to plan the treatment that is best for your situation.

Making a complaint

Talking to your healthcare team can make it easier to cope. If you find talking difficult, there are things you can do.