Decorative image

Referral to a specialist

Find out when GPs refer women to see an ovarian cancer specialist.

Your GP should arrange for you to see a specialist if you have symptoms that could be due to ovarian 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. Your doctor might ask you to go back if symptoms continue or get worse.

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.

What your GP should do

Your GP should arrange a CA125 blood test and possibly an ultrasound scan in women (especially those aged 50 or over) with any of the following persistent symptoms (more than 12 times a month):

  • long lasting swelling or bloating of your tummy
  • loss of appetite or feeling full quickly
  • pain in your tummy (abdomen) or lower part of your abdomen (pelvis)
  • needing to wee more often than usual (frequency) or more suddenly than usual (urgency)

Your GP should arrange a CA125 blood test and possibly an ultrasound scan in women aged 50 or over who have had symptoms of irrritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in the last 12 months.

This is because IBS rarely develops for the first time in women over 50 years. IBS can cause a broad range of symptoms. The most common are diarrhoea or constipation, or changing from one to the other. Also bloating and swelling of the tummy.

Your GP may also offer you tests if you have:

  • lost weight that is unexplained
  • tiredness that is unexplained
  • changes in bowel habit (for example constipation or diarrhoea)

If your GP doesn't think that you have ovarian cancer, they will not refer you to a specialist. But they will ask you to go back to them again if your symptoms continue or happen more often.

Other symptoms

Your doctor will also want to know about any other symptoms. So do mention anything else you are concerned about.

Urgent referral to a specialist

According to guidelines, your GP should refer you urgently to see a specialist if:

  • you have a lump in your abdomen or pelvis, that is not fibroids
  • you have a build up of fluid (ascites) in your abdomen
  • your ultrasound scan shows a lump or abnormal area that could be ovarian cancer

If you're still worried

Go back to your GP if your symptoms have not improved, are getting worse or are happening more often. 

If you are concerned that your GP is not taking your symptoms seriously, you could print this page and take it along to the appointment. Ask your GP to talk it through with you. Then you may be able to decide together whether you need to have tests, or see a specialist.

The CA125 blood test is a general test and can't diagnose ovarian cancer on its own. But it can help to show that something may be wrong.

Talk to your GP if you have a family history of ovarian or breast cancer. Depending on your circumstances, your GP might refer you to a family cancer clinic. A specialist at the clinic can assess your family history and decide whether you need screening for ovarian cancer and genetic testing.

Information and help

Dangoor sponsorship

About Cancer generously supported by Dangoor Education since 2010.