- Cancer Information
- Practical concerns
- Cancer care and your rights
- Making treatment decisions
- Getting a second opinion
Getting a second opinion
Finding a specialist and deciding on treatment can be difficult. You have the right to talk to more than one specialist to consider your treatment options or to confirm the recommended treatment. This is called a second opinion, and it may help reassure you that you have explored all of your options.
Learn more about:
Reasons you may want to get a second opinion include:
- peace of mind
- ensuring you receive up-to-date advice and treatment
- getting a different point of view
- joining a clinical trial
- exploring and challenging advice from your first doctor
- not feeling at ease with your first doctor.
A second opinion may also be helpful for people who face a choice between high-risk treatment that has a chance of a better outcome, and treatment that has a lower risk with less likelihood for success.
Not everyone will want to get a second opinion. However, some people would like a second opinion but may not ask for one. This may be because they don’t realise they can or because they don’t want to upset the specialist they’ve already seen.
I wasn’t happy with the treatment option recommended by the first specialist my GP referred me to, so I asked for a second opinion. I decided it was my life and my choice.
You can seek a second opinion by asking:
- your specialist – many are happy to recommend another doctor
- your GP – if you don’t feel comfortable asking the specialist for a referral for a second opinion, you can go back to your GP
- treatment centre staff – one of the nurses at your treatment centre can give you a list of specialists who work at that location. Your GP can then write a referral to the specialist of your choice.
- You have the right to ask for as many opinions as you like.
- Doctors aren’t allowed to discriminate against people for requesting a second opinion.
- You don’t have to tell your specialist that you are seeking a second opinion, but it might help if you do. Most doctors understand the value of a second opinion and are not offended. They may even be able to help you find someone.
- Some specialists who have a heavy workload don’t accept patients for a second opinion.
- Second opinions can take time (to be referred to the new specialist and to get an appointment with them).
- Once you find someone to give you a second opinion, your first specialist should share your test results with them.
- If you are a public patient, you may only be allowed to be on a waiting list to see a specialist at one hospital at a time. Your doctor may also not be able to refer you to another specialist in the same hospital.
- You can get a second opinion even if you have started treatment. You might decide to be treated by the first doctor or you may prefer to be treated by the second specialist.
Toni Ashmore, Cancer and Ambulatory Services, Canberra Health Services, ACT; Baker McKenzie, Pro Bono Legal Adviser, NSW; Marion Bamblett, Acting Nurse Unit Manager, Cancer Centre, South Metropolitan Health Service, Fiona Stanley Hospital, WA; David Briggs, Consumer; Naomi Catchpole, Social Worker, Metro South Health, Princess Alexandra Hospital, QLD; Tarishi Desai, Legal Research Officer, McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer, VIC; Kathryn Dwan, Manager, Policy and Research, Health Care Consumers Association, ACT; Hayley Jones, Manager, Treatment and Supportive Care, McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer, VIC; Victoria Lear, Cancer Care Coordinator, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, QLD; Deb Roffe, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Michelle Smerdon, National Pro Bono Manager, Cancer Council NSW.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
Coping with cancer?
Speak to a health professional or to someone who has been there, or find a support group or forum
Need legal and financial assistance?
Pro bono services, financial and legal assistance, and no interest loans
Looking for transport, accommodation or home help?
Practical advice and support during and after treatment