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Referral to a specialist

Find out when GPs refer people to see a bone cancer specialist.

Bone cancer that starts in the bone (primary bone cancer) is very rare. Most bone cancers are diagnosed in children, teenagers or young adults. Half of all bone cancers are in or near the knee. 

Your GP should arrange for you to see a specialist within 2 weeks if you have symptoms that could be due to bone cancer. This is called an urgent referral.  A bone specialist is called an orthopaedic doctor.

Seeing your GP

It can be hard for GPs to decide who may have bone cancer and who might have a more minor condition. For some symptoms, your doctor may ask you to wait to see if the symptoms get better or respond to treatment, such as antibiotics or painkillers.

Your GP will send you for an x-ray if you have bone pain or other symptoms that could be caused by bone cancer. X-rays are a way to diagnose a bone cancer early. They are done in the outpatient department of the hospital.

UK referral guidelines

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and Healthcare Improvement Scotland (HIS) produce guidelines for GPs in the UK. The guidelines help them decide who needs an urgent referral.


You should have an urgent referral if your x-ray shows that you might have bone cancer. This means you should see a specialist within 2 weeks.

Children and young people

If you are a child (0-15) or a young person (16-24) with bone swelling or pain, you should have an urgent x-ray within 2 days. You should be referred within 2 days to a specialist if the results of your x-ray suggest you might have a bone cancer.

If you've had cancer before

Your GP will probably arrange for you to see your original cancer specialist if you have symptoms of cancer in your bones but have previously had another different cancer.

Bone cancers are very rare and it is more likely that your symptoms could be caused by your original cancer spreading to the bones, rather than a new primary bone cancer. Even if you had cancer before, your symptoms may be caused by something completely different. They are not necessarily a sign of the cancer coming back.

If you are still worried

Sometimes you might feel that your GP is not concerned enough about your symptoms. If you think they should be more concerned, print this page and the symptoms page. Ask your GP to talk it through with you. Together you can decide if you should see a specialist.

You could also call the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040. The lines are open from 9am to 5pm, from Monday to Friday.

Information and help

Dangoor sponsorship

About Cancer generously supported by Dangoor Education since 2010.