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Referral to a specialist

Find out how and when GPs refer people to see a stomach cancer specialist. And get some suggestions of questions that you can ask your doctor.

Your GP should arrange for you to see a specialist within 2 weeks if you have symptoms that could be due to stomach cancer. This is called an urgent referral

Seeing your GP

It can be hard for GPs to decide who may have stomach (gastric) 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 antacids or antibiotics.

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

Urgent referral

Urgent referral means that you should see a specialist within 2 weeks.

You should have an urgent referral to a specialist if you have a lump or swelling in your tummy (abdomen) that could be stomach cancer. Your doctor may do blood tests to check for a low red blood cell count (anaemia). These blood tests will also show your platelet count.

Your doctor should also refer you for an endoscopy if you are over 55, have lost weight without trying to lose weight and have any of these symptoms:

  • upper tummy pain (abdominal pain)
  • acid reflux
  • indigestion (dyspepsia)

Immediate referral

Your GP should refer you for an endoscopy within 2 weeks if you have difficulty swallowing (dysphagia) or vomit with blood (haematemesis).

Non urgent referral

A non urgent referral means you can expect to see a specialist within 6 weeks of seeing your GP. Your GP should consider referring you for a non urgent endoscopy if you are 55 or older and have:

  • indigestion that has not got better after taking medication
  • upper abdominal pain  with a low red blood cell count (anaemia)
  • a high platelet count as well as any of these -  feeling or being sick, weight loss, acid reflux, indigestion or upper abdominal pain

Your GP should also consider referring you if you’re 55 or older and have nausea and vomiting with any of these

  • weight loss
  • acid reflux
  • indigestion
  • upper abdominal pain

Questions you may ask your doctor

  • Will my diet, drinking or smoking habits increase my risk of stomach cancer?
  • If I get a lot of indigestion am I more likely to get stomach cancer?
  • Does my age make a difference to my risk?
  • Can I be screened for stomach cancer?
  • My mother had stomach cancer. Does this mean I am more likely to get it?

Information and help

About Cancer generously supported by Dangoor Education since 2010.​