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Second Opinions

Why is finding a specialist important?

Receiving a cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming and life-changing. Finding a kidney cancer specialist is one of the most important things you can do on your cancer journey. What we know about kidney cancer and the options for treating it have expanded greatly in recent years which is great news but can make healthcare more complicated. No one doctor knows everything about every study or treatment so it is no surprise that studies show up to 25% of patients may be incorrectly diagnosed which can greatly affect treatment. Making decisions about cancer treatment without having the most accurate information could affect decisions you have to make later, so getting this information as early as possible is crucial.

When you are looking for a specialist, be sure to ask how many patients with kidney cancer they diagnose and treat each year. A specialist who sees hundreds of kidney cancer patients per year will have more expertise and experience than a doctor who only sees 10 kidney cancer patients a year. You may decide to switch to that specialist or have them work with your doctor to oversee your care.

What is a second opinion?

A second opinion is a review of your records by a medical specialist that isn’t part of your usual care team. It can offer reassurance that you are on the right care path or shed light on additional options that may improve your overall outcomes.

Not all second opinions are the same. Some may only look at your lab results and medical notes while others will also re-evaluate your tissue samples or CT images. Having the specialist review as much of your health record as possible is ideal to have as much information as possible to form their opinion.

When should I consider a second opinion?

If you have a rare sub-type of kidney cancer (e.g., any non-clear cell type)
If you are seeing a doctor that may not have a lot of experience in treating kidney cancer
If you have started treatment, but don’t seem to be getting better (or are getting worse)
If you have any hesitation in making a major decision like surgery or drug treatment
If you are considering a treatment that has significant or long-lasting risks

Are second opinions covered by insurance?

Many insurances now cover second opinion visits, but this will vary from plan to plan. Additionally, each facility may charge differently. Here are a couple of items that may impact coverage and cost:

  • Is the visit in-person (may have to travel) or virtual (may not be covered by insurance)?
  • Is the specialist considered in-network or out-of-network?
  • Do you know what is included in the second opinion?  (e.g., review of doctor notes only or review of pathology and images too)
  • Will there be additional charges if there is a need to consult with additional specialists?

Be sure to check and confirm your benefits with your insurance provider before seeking a second opinion. If you seek a second opinion that is not covered by insurance, be sure to ask how much it will cost and whether it can be applied to a Health Savings Account (HSA) or Flexible Spending Account (FSA).

Below are some useful links:

Find an NCI-Designated Cancer Center
KCA Patient Navigator Program
Smart Patients Online Community
Virtual Second Opinions by Cleveland Clinic