Second opinions in oncology: the experiences of patients attending the Sydney Cancer Centre

Med J Aust. 2009 Aug 17;191(4):209-12. doi: 10.5694/j.1326-5377.2009.tb02754.x.


Objective: To investigate the frequency, goals and outcomes of second-opinion consultations at the Sydney Cancer Centre.

Design, setting and participants: A questionnaire-based study of patients who registered to see a medical oncologist at the Sydney Cancer Centre between January 2006 and January 2008 and who were seeking a second opinion.

Main outcome measures: Proportion and demographic characteristics of patients who had previously seen a medical oncologist and who stated they were seeking a second opinion.

Results: 123 of 1892 new patients (6.5%) stated that they were seeking a second opinion, of whom 22 declined study participation, were excluded from study participation or had been referred specifically for enrolment in a particular clinical trial. Of the remaining 101 patients, 77 completed a questionnaire; 59 were women and 26 had a university degree. Reasons for seeking second opinions included: to obtain information related to treatment (54 patients), for reassurance about diagnosis or treatment (47), and dissatisfaction with the information given by the first medical oncologist (24). Sixty-four patients reported that they received new information at the second-opinion consultation, with 45 identifying discussion of treatment options and 34 identifying discussion of future or prognosis. Fifty-one patients reported how the second-opinion consultation differed from the first, identifying it as longer (24), and indicating that the oncologist answered concerns (26). Most patients were aware of multidisciplinary teams and treatment guidelines, but fewer had read guidelines.

Conclusions: Patients seeking a second opinion from a medical oncologist are typically more educated, younger and female, probably due to preferences for more detailed information. The most common reasons for seeking a second opinion were to obtain additional information or reassurance about recommended management.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Educational Status
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Neoplasms / therapy
  • New South Wales / epidemiology
  • Oncology Service, Hospital
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / statistics & numerical data
  • Referral and Consultation*
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires