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Getting a Second Opinion

by Michael R. Wasserman, MD

Despite many similarities in training, doctors may vary in their opinions about how to diagnose or treat certain disorders. Such differences can occur among the best of doctors. Differences often occur because the evidence for benefits and risks is not clear. For example, opinions can differ about whether or when to measure prostate-specific antigen (PSA) to check for prostate cancer in men who have no symptoms (see Tumors Metastatic to the kidney : Diagnosis). Differences in recommendations may also be based on how familiar a doctor is with a test or treatment or on how willing a doctor is to use the latest tests and treatments.

For these reasons, getting a second opinion from a different doctor can give a person additional insight and more information about what to do. If the second opinion is the same, it can reassure the person and reduce anxiety. If it differs, options can be weighed, and the result is a more informed choice about what to do. Also, a person can get a third opinion, particularly if the second opinion is different from the first.

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