Should I see a nasopharyngeal cancer specialist? | Cancer Research UK
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Should I see a nasopharyngeal cancer specialist?

Men and women discussing nasopharyngeal cancer

This page tells you about the guidelines that GPs have to help them decide who needs to see a specialist for suspected nasopharyngeal cancer. You can find the following information

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Should I see a nasopharyngeal cancer specialist?

It can be very difficult for GPs to decide who to refer to a specialist. There are guidelines for GPs to help them decide which patients need to be seen urgently by a specialist.

Urgent referral guidelines

You should ideally get an appointment within 2 weeks if you have

  • An unexplained lump in your neck that is new or has changed in the last 3 weeks
  • Unexplained swelling in the glands under your ear, or around your lower jaw, that does not go away
  • Unexplained pain on one side of your head and neck for more than 3 weeks, with earache (that has no obvious cause)
  • An unexplained sore or painful throat that has lasted longer than 3 weeks

If you have a loose tooth for more than 3 weeks for no apparent reason, your doctor may want to refer you to a dentist urgently. 

The guidelines also say the GP should send you for an urgent chest X-ray if you have had a hoarse, husky or quieter than normal voice for more than 3 weeks – particularly if you are a smoker over the age of 50, or a heavy drinker.

What to do if you are concerned

If you are worried your GP isn’t taking your symptoms as seriously as you think they should, you could print this page, and take it along to your appointment.
 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the about nasopharyngeal cancer section.

 

 

GP guidelines

It can be very difficult for GPs to decide who to refer to a specialist. With many symptoms, it is perfectly right that your GP should ask you to wait to see if your symptoms go away on their own, or respond to treatment such as antibiotics. If GPs referred everyone with any symptom to a specialist immediately, the system would get jammed and those needing urgent appointments wouldn't be able to get them.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and the Scottish Government have produced referral guidelines for possible head and neck cancer to help GPs decide which patients need to see a specialist urgently.

Seeing a specialist

While reading these guidelines, it is important to remember that

  • Nasopharyngeal cancers are rare
  • A number of risk factors affect your chances of developing a nasopharyngeal cancer
 

Guidelines for urgent referral for nasopharyngeal cancer

Department of Health guidelines say you should get an appointment within 2 weeks for an urgent referral.

The symptoms that need urgent referral for a possible head and neck cancer are

  • An unexplained lump in your neck that is new or has changed in the last 3 weeks
  • Unexplained swelling in the glands under your ear, or around your lower jaw, that does not go away
  • Unexplained pain on one side of your head and neck for more than 3 weeks, with earache (that has no obvious cause)
  • An unexplained sore or painful throat that has lasted longer than 3 weeks

If you have a loose tooth for more than 3 weeks for no apparent reason, your doctor may refer you to a dentist urgently.

The guidelines also say the GP should send you for an urgent chest X-ray if you have had a hoarse, husky or quieter than normal voice for more than 3 weeks, particularly if you are a smoker over the age of 50 or a heavy drinker. The reason for the X-ray is to try to be clear whether you have a suspected lung cancer or head and neck cancer.

It is important to remember that some of these symptoms can be caused by other less serious medical conditions. These symptoms do not always mean that you have cancer of the nasopharynx.

 

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 may 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 where you see a specialist who will examine your lump and then have tests to check for cancer, such as an ultrasound scan and a biopsy. You may have a follow up appointment about a week later to get the results. Or in some clinics you may get some results on the same day.

 

What to do if you are concerned

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 the symptoms page, and take them 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.

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Updated: 19 August 2014