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Referral to a specialist

Find out when and why your GP might refer you to a cancer specialist, and what to expect when you see one.

Seeing your GP

Symptoms that are unlikely to be cancer

The symptoms of mesothelioma are similar to the symptoms of some other medical conditions. This means it can be very difficult for GPs to decide if you could have mesothelioma or something less serious that will go away on its own.

With many symptoms, it is perfectly right that your GP should ask you ask you to wait and see if your symptoms get better or respond to treatment such as antibiotics. If GPs referred everyone who came to see them to a specialist immediately, the system would get jammed and people who need urgent appointments would not be able to get them

But there are certain symptoms, which could be caused by pleural mesothelioma, that mean your GP should send you for an urgent chest x-ray or refer you to a specialist.

Urgent chest x-ray

You should have an urgent chest x-ray (within 2 weeks) if you are aged 40 or over and have:

  • changes in the shape of your fingers and nails called finger clubbing
  • chest symptoms that could indicate lung disease, such as a cough, shortness of breath or chest pain

If the chest x-ray shows anything abnormal, you should get an appointment to see a specialist. Ideally, you should see a specialist within two weeks.

Chest x-ray

Your GP should offer you a chest x-ray if you are aged 40 or over and have 2 or more of the following symptoms, or 1 or more of these symptoms and a history of smoking or being exposed to asbestos:

  • a cough
  • tiredness (fatigue)
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain
  • weight loss
  • loss of appetite

Urgent referral

You should ideally see a specialist urgently if you have been exposed to asbestos in the past and have recently developed chest pain and shortness of breath. According to NICE guidelines, an urgent referral means you should see a specialist within 2 weeks of seeing your GP.

There are no guidelines for seeing a specialist for peritoneal mesothelioma. If you know that you have been exposed to asbestos in the past and you have unexplained abdominal symptoms, you should see your GP.

If you are still worried

You could print this page and take it along to an appointment if you are concerned that your GP is not taking your symptoms as seriously as you think they should.

Ask your GP to talk it through with you. Then you may be able to decide together whether you need to see a specialist and, if so, how soon.

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

Dangoor sponsorship

About Cancer generously supported by Dangoor Education since 2010.