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Referral to a specialist

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

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

Seeing your GP

It can be hard for GPs to decide who may have 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.

There are guidelines for GPs to help them decide who needs a referral.

When your GP should refer you

Your GP should refer you if:

  • you are over 40, with unexplained weight loss and tummy (abdominal) pain 
  • you are over 50, and have unexplained bleeding from your back passage (rectum)
  • you are over 60, and have low iron levels in your blood (anaemia) or change in your bowel habit 
  • your test results show hidden blood in your poo 
  • you have a lump or swelling in your back passage or tummy (abdomen) 
  • you are under 50, with bleeding from your back passage, with either tummy pain, weight loss, low iron levels or weight loss. 

If you do not have bleeding from your back passage, your GP should offer a test checking for hidden blood if:

  • you are over 50, and have unexplained pain in your abdomen or weight loss
  • you are under 60, with changes to bowel habits or low iron levels 
  • you are over 60, and have low iron levels 

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.

Information and help

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