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Referral to a specialist

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

Your GP should arrange for you to see a specialist if you have symptoms that could be due to nasopharyngeal cancer. Depending on your symptoms and other factors, this might be 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.

UK referral guidelines

There are guidelines for GPs to help them decide who needs a referral.

Some of the UK nations have targets around how quickly you’ll be seen. In England an urgent referral means that you should see a specialist within 2 weeks.

This 2 week time limit does not exist in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. But wherever you live, you are seen as quickly as possible.

Ask your GP when you are likely to get an appointment

Guidelines for head and neck cancer

The guidelines for suspected head and neck cancer (including nasopharyngeal cancer) vary between the different UK nations. The following is a summary of all of these guidelines.

Your doctor might refer you to a specialist urgently if you have: 

  • an unexplained lump in your neck
  • an unexplained sore or painful throat that doesn’t get better
  • an unexplained hoarse voice that doesn't get better

A symptom that does not get better might continue, for example for more than 3 weeks. Your GP might arrange for you to have an x-ray if you have a hoarse voice.

Your doctor might use these guidelines as well as considering other symptoms that you might have.

They might also take into account whether you have any risk factors that affect your chances of developing a nasopharyngeal cancer.

Neck lump clinic

A lump or growth in your neck is a common symptom of nasopharyngeal cancer, and may be the only symptom you have. Your GP might refer you to a neck lump clinic at the hospital to find out the cause. Many neck lumps are not caused by cancer, but it is important to be sure.

The neck lump clinic is a one stop clinic. You see a specialist who examines your lump. You then have tests to check for cancer, such as an ultrasound scan and having tissue samples taken (a biopsy).

You might have a follow up appointment about a week later to get the results. Or in some clinics you might get some results on the same day.

If you are still worried

If you are still worried, it’s worth remembering that nasopharyngeal cancers are rare.  Your could make another appointment  with your GP if  you are concerned they are not taking your symptoms seriously.

You could print this page and ask your GP to talk it through with you. Then you might be able to decide together whether you need to see a specialist.

Information and help

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About Cancer generously supported by Dangoor Education since 2010.