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Referral to a specialist

Find out when GPs refer people to see a mouth and oropharyngeal cancer specialist.

Your GP should arrange for you to see a specialist within 2 weeks if you have symptoms that could be due to mouth or oropharyngeal 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.

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.

The guidelines state your GP should consider an urgent referral to a specalist if you have:

  • mouth ulcers that do not go away after 3 weeks 
  • an unexplained lump in the neck that won't go away 

Your GP should consider an urgent referral to a dentist to check for mouth cancer if you have:

  • a lump on the lip or in your mouth that won't go away 
  • red or white patches in your mouth that won't go away (that are not thrush) 

If your dentist feels that these symptoms could be cancer, then they should refer you to a cancer specialist within 2 weeks. 

Non urgent referrals

Your GP may make a non urgent referral to a specialist if you have red or white patches in your mouth that are not painful, swollen or bleeding.

There are conditions called erythoplakia and leukoplakia. They are not cancerous, but can lead to cancer in some people over time if they are left untreated. 

If you are still worried

If you are worried that your GP is not taking your symptoms as seriously as you think they should, you could print this page and take it to an appointment. 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 how soon. 

Information and help

Dangoor sponsorship

About Cancer generously supported by Dangoor Education since 2010.