Find out when GPs refer people for an urgent chest x-ray or to see a lung cancer specialist.
Your GP should arrange for you to see a specialist if you have symptoms that could be due to lung cancer.
In England, your GP should arrange for you to see a specialist within 2 weeks if you have symptoms that could be due to lung cancer. This is called an urgent referral. Your GP should send you for an urgent chest x-ray (within 2 weeks) if you have certain symptoms. They might then refer you to a specialist if the x-ray shows anything abnormal.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland don't have the 2 week guideline. But if you have symptoms that could be due to lung cancer you will be referred for a chest x-ray or to a specialist as quickly as possible.
Urgent referral for chest x-ray
You should get an urgent appointment for an x-ray if you are over 40 and have 2 or more of these symptoms, or if you have ever smoked and have 1 or more of these symptoms:
- a cough
- tiredness and weakness (fatigue)
- shortness of breath
- chest pain
- weight loss
- loss of appetite
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, your GP should consider referring you for an urgent chest x-ray (within 2 weeks) if you are over 40 and have any of these:
- an ongoing or recurrent chest infection
- a particular type of thickening and broadening of the fingertips, called clubbing
- enlarged lymph nodes in your neck or above your collarbone
- chest symptoms such as a cough, shortness of breath or chest pain
- a high platelet count (thrombocytosis) in your blood
In Scotland the guidelines are similar but there are some differences. Your GP might also arrange an urgent x-ray if you:
- are coughing up blood
- have a change in a cough
- have shoulder pain
- have hoarseness
You might have an urgent x-ray if you have tiredness (fatigue) and you are a smoker and aged over 50.
Urgent referral to see a specialist
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, you should have an urgent referral to see a specialist (within 2 weeks) if you have a chest x-ray that shows changes that could be due to lung cancer.
You should also have an urgent referral if you are aged 40 or over and are coughing up blood.
In Scotland, your GP might refer you urgently to a specialist if you have a chest x-ray that has changes that could be due to lung cancer. They should also refer you if you are aged 50 or over, are a smoker or ex smoker and you are coughing up blood.
UK referral guidelines
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and the Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network (SIGN) produce guidelines for GPs. The guidelines help them decide who needs to be referred urgently to a specialist or for tests.