Roswell Park Comprehensive Care Center

By Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center

Sometimes patients disagree with their doctors. When that happens, getting a second opinion is always a good idea — and sometimes it’s crucial, especially after a life-changing diagnosis, such as cancer.

Consider these scenarios, all of which contain red flags about the doctors involved:

  • Your physician doesn’t give you a full, clear explanation of your pathology report, in a language you understand.
  • Your physician says you don’t need a second opinion, or says you’ll be dropped as a patient if you choose a particular hospital or care center.
  • Your doctor pressures you to start chemotherapy or undergo surgery tomorrow. Cancer generally doesn’t require this kind of immediate action. Exceptions include acute leukemia; cases in which a tumor is compressing a vital structure, such as the heart or large blood vessels; or certain other rare conditions.

What should you do if you find yourself in one of these situations? Or, what if you simply disagree with your doctor about your diagnosis, the treatment plan that has been recommended, or where to undergo treatment? Remember that you are your own best health advocate, and you are well within your rights to ask questions, request more information, and discuss — and disagree about — details of your care.

There are several things you can try if you are at a standstill with your physician:

  1. Talk with your doctor about your concerns. Expressing why you are uncomfortable and giving your doctor more detailed information about your objections will help clarify your position. Clear communication is essential to problem-solving. More information helps both you and your doctor understand each other better, and reach a resolution — or at least a compromise.
  2. Bring someone you trust with you for the conversation. That person — a friend, relative, or someone who has had cancer — can help you ask questions and express reluctance. You may also want to ask this person to take notes for you during your conversation with your doctor, and to speak on your behalf, if necessary.
  3. Ask for more time and/or information.If you aren’t sure what to do, tell your doctor you need more time to research or discuss your diagnosis, or more information about what is being recommended before making a decision. Be sure you understand the risks of tests or treatments, and how undergoing them will help you. Ask if you have any other options.
  4. Stand your ground.If you aren’t sure about the treatment that has been recommended for you, or even about a particular test, raise your concerns with your doctor, and provide evidence that supports your point of view. You also can refuse to undergo the treatment or testing until later (unless you “lack capacity” to make an informed decision — i.e. your mind is impaired, in which case you can appoint someone to be your health proxy).

Adapted from Roswell Park’s Cancer Center blog at RoswellPark.org/CancerTalk