Health advocates advise a second opinion when major surgery is recommended. Here are tips on searching for options.

—Start with the doctor recommending the traditional surgery, asking what will happen if you don't have the operation and if there are alternative treatments, either medical or surgical.

—Ask your primary care doctor to help you find hospitals or surgeons that specialize in your condition.

—Major medical centers may offer second-opinion consultations for long-distance patients with certain conditions. Ask what medical records they need, and if your insurance will cover any charge.

—In comparing options, ask surgeons how many times they have performed a particular operation; their patients' average hospital stay; about the type and frequency of surgical complications; and how long the different options take in the operating room.