Seeing the doctor
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Many people are unsure whether or not to see their doctor and worry about wasting the doctor’s time. But you needn’t worry. If you’ve developed any of the possible signs and symptoms of cancer or noticed something different about your body, your doctor will want to know. Remember that the doctor is there to help you.
And if you need to go back to your doctor because your symptoms haven’t gone away, or they’ve changed or got worse, go back. Don’t worry about wasting their time.
It’s not possible to know what’s going on in our bodies just by how we feel or look. And when cancer first develops you may not feel any differently at all. So getting checked out by your doctor is always a good idea.
If you’ve noticed something different about yourself, or have got one of the possible warning signs or symptoms of cancer, it’s important that you go and talk to your doctor about it, even if you don’t feel ill or unwell.
Sometimes, people are put off from going to the doctor by the fear of what the doctor might find. But unless you go and get yourself checked out, you won't know whether anything serious is the matter or not. You have nothing to lose by going to the doctor, but you could have everything to gain. If it is something serious, finding it early and getting treatment started can make a real difference.
Some people feel embarrassed at the thought of going to the doctor and telling them about their symptoms. But don’t let feeling embarrassed put you off seeing the doctor.
If it makes things easier for you, when you call to make an appointment you can ask to see either a male or a female doctor. If one is available, they will be happy to see you.
Doctors are professionals, who deal with people, bodies and illness on a daily basis. You won’t shock them or embarrass them by telling them what’s been happening, and they won’t think any the less of you.
Sometimes people find it difficult to find the time to see a doctor. But if you’ve noticed anything unusual about yourself, it’s important that you get it checked out by your doctor, sooner rather than later. There are some things we just need to make time for.
Many doctors’ surgeries are offering early or late appointment times so if you’ve not been to the doctor in a while, check with them to find out their opening hours.
If you’re not able to make it to the surgery, find out whether you could speak to a doctor over the telephone.
Getting through to a receptionist to make an appointment can sometimes be difficult. But don’t be put off if you don’t get through the first time - keep trying until you get the appointment you’re looking for.
If you’ve been to see the doctor but your symptoms haven’t gone away, or they’ve changed or got worse, it’s important that you go back. They would want to know what was happening.
Sometimes it can be tempting to keep an eye on things we’ve noticed, to see if they will clear up on their own. But it’s a much better idea to make an appointment with your doctor as soon as you can after noticing a symptom or a change in how things usually are.
When you see the doctor, let them know when you first noticed that something was different. It may help to write dates and details down before you go, so that you’re able to tell them all that’s been happening.
If the doctor thinks it’s okay to wait a while to see what happens, they will be happy to let you know when you go back and see them. If your symptoms don’t go away, do go back and tell your doctor.
Quite often, we get to the doctor’s and can’t remember everything we wanted to tell them. So it can be helpful to write down beforehand why you’ve made the appointment and what you want to let them know about.
You might find it helpful to keep a symptom diary, a record of what’s been happening, how long it’s been going on for, and how often it occurs. You could take this with you to the doctor and use it to help you tell them about everything that’s been going on.
When we speak to the doctor we often only tell them about the things that we think are important. But a doctor needs to know about everything that’s been happening, even if you don’t think they’re related. Keeping a symptom diary or writing everything down before you see your doctor can help you to make sure you tell them about all that you’ve noticed, no matter how important or serious you think it is.
What will happen when you see the doctor will vary depending on the situation.
- The doctor might be able to reassure you there and then that there’s nothing serious to worry about.
- The doctor may send you for tests or refer you to the hospital to try and find out more about what’s happening.
- The doctor may ask you to come back if things haven’t resolved in a couple of weeks or so. This is because you sometimes need to allow time for things to sort themselves out on their own. If they don’t clear up, or if they change or worsen, it’s important to go back to the doctor. The doctor may then refer you on for further tests to try and find out what’s happening.
To find a doctor’s surgery in your local area you can:
- Search on the NHS choices website (England)
- Search on the NHS24 website (Scotland)
- Search on NHS Direct Wales
- Search on the Health and Social Care in Northern Ireland website
- Call NHS Direct on 0845 4647
If the first surgery you speak to isn’t able to take on any new patients, they may be able to recommend another surgery nearby that can see you.
Being registered with a doctor is really important - it’s how the screening programmes know to invite you to screening. If you’re not registered with a surgery, you won’t automatically receive an invitation through the post.
If you notice anything unusual, there are other people who can give you advice:
- your dentist, if you’ve noticed something in your mouth
- the pharmacist
- the practice nurse
But remember, always make an appointment with your doctor if your symptoms don’t go away.