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Referral to a specialist

Find out when GPs refer people to see a thyroid cancer specialist.

Your GP should arrange for you to see a specialist within 2 weeks if you have symptoms that could be due to thyroid cancer, such as an unexplained lump in your thyroid. 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 say that you should see a specialist urgently (within 2 weeks) if you have an unexplained lump in your thyroid.

Things to remember

While reading these guidelines, it is important to remember that :

  • thyroid lumps are very common but only 1 in 20 are cancerous
  • thyroid cancer is rare
  • thyroid cancer is more common in women, between 2 and 3 times more women are diagnosed than men

Seeing your specialist

Your specialist will ask about your medical history and symptoms. They’ll examine you and your neck.

If your GP hasn't already taken blood for thyroid tests, you'll have some blood taken. This is to check your thyroid hormone levels and to see if the blood contains particular proteins called thyroid antibodies. These blood tests also show whether you have a normal, over active or under active thyroid. 

Then your specialist will arrange other tests in the outpatient department. 

If you are still worried

If you are concerned that your GP is not taking your symptoms as seriously as you think they should, you could print this page and take it along to an appointment. Ask your GP to talk it through with you and then you may be able to decide together whether you need to see a specialist and if so, how soon.

Information and help

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About Cancer generously supported by Dangoor Education since 2010.