Find out what to expect when you see your GP, and how to get the most out of your appointment.
When to see your GP
See your doctor if you notice a change that isn't normal for you or if you have any of the possible signs and symptoms of cancer.
Even if you're worrying about what the symptom might be, you shouldn't delay seeing them. Your worry is unlikely to go away if you don't make an appointment. It might not be cancer. But if it is, the earlier it is picked up the more likely it is that it can be treated successfully. You won't be wasting your doctor's time.
Try not to be embarrassed. What you tell your GP is confidential. Doctors are used to discussing intimate problems and will try to put you at ease.
Getting the most out of your GP appointment
It can be difficult to remember everything you want to say and ask when you see the doctor. These tips will help you get the most out of your appointment.
- Write down your symptoms including when they started, when they happen and how often you have them.
- Write down if anything makes them worse or better.
- Tell your GP if you are worried about cancer in particular.
- Take a friend or relative along for support - they could also ask questions and help you remember what the GP says.
- Ask the GP to explain anything you don’t understand.
- Ask the GP to write things down for you if you think it might help.
What happens at your GP appointment
Depending on your symptoms your GP might do a general examination. They will feel for any areas that might be swollen or might not feel normal. And if you have any pain they will feel those areas. It might feel tender, or it might be possible to feel a lump.
They also listen to your chest to find out if it sounds normal. For example they can listen for signs of fluid collecting.
After your examination, your doctor might need to refer you to hospital for tests. Or they might refer you directly to a specialist.
Ask your GP to explain if they don’t think you need a referral or any tests. They might ask you to come back in a week or two if your symptoms continue. Go back if they change or get worse.
Questions you might want to ask your GP
- Do I need to see a specialist? Is it urgent?
- When will I see them?
- Will I find out about my appointments by post or telephone?
- Do I need tests? What will they involve?
- How long should I expect to wait?
- Where can I find out more about tests?
- Do I have to do anything in preparation for this test?
- When will I get the results and who will tell me?
If they don't think you need any tests or a referral
- Can you explain to me why I don’t need to have tests or see a specialist?
- Is there anything I can do to help myself?
- Do I need to see you again?
- Who do I contact if my symptoms continue or get worse, especially during the night or at weekends?
What happens next
Make sure you know what happens next. Make another appointment if your symptoms don’t clear up, or if they change or get worse.
How to find a GP
If you don’t have a GP, you can find a doctor’s surgery in your local area by going to:
Making a GP appointment
You can book an appointment online at most GP surgeries, telephone them or go in person. You don’t have to tell the receptionist what you want to see the doctor for.
Try different times of the day if it's difficult to get through by phone. Your surgery might have a clinic you can turn up to and wait to see a doctor. You might have to wait a long time but you’ll see a doctor that day.
If it’s difficult to get to the surgery, check whether your practice has telephone appointments with a doctor. They’ll tell you if you need to go into see them at the surgery.
Accept a booked appointment, even if you think it’s a long time to wait. You could ask about cancellations if you are able to get to the practice at short notice.