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Seeing a specialist for rare cancers

This page tells you about seeing a specialist if you have a rare cancer. There is information on

 

A quick guide to what’s on this page

It can be very difficult for GPs to decide who to refer to a specialist. The symptoms of cancer can be very similar to those of other medical conditions. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has produced guidelines to help GPs in the UK decide who should be seen urgently by a specialist.

Some doctors have expertise in particular types of rare cancer or rare sub types of cancer. Most people who have a rare cancer will be referred initially to their local cancer specialist. But if there is another cancer doctor who specialises particularly in treating your type of rare cancer, your local cancer doctor may refer you on to them. Or get advice from them in how to treat you.

CR PDF Icon View and print the quick guide for the About rare cancers section

 

Who should see a specialist

It can be very difficult for GPs to decide who may have a cancer and who may have something much more minor that will go away on its own. The symptoms of cancer can be very similar to those of other medical conditions. With many symptoms, it is perfectly right that your GP should ask you to wait to see if they get better or if they respond to treatment such as antibiotics. If GPs referred everyone who came to see them to a specialist immediately, the system would get jammed. People needing urgent appointments wouldn't then be able to get them.

Seeing a specialist

Many symptoms are very common. Usually, they are due to a more minor condition than cancer. But there are particular combinations of symptoms that could be due to a cancer and mean that your GP should refer you to a specialist straight away.

You can find information about the possible symptoms of cancer in the about cancer section. If you have a symptom that hasn’t gone away after a few weeks, go to see your GP.

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

 

The UK Guidelines

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) have produced guidelines for GPs to help them decide which patients need to see a specialist urgently. These guidelines list signs and symptoms that relate to particular cancers and parts of the body. The guidelines say who should be referred to a specialist within 2 weeks of going to see a GP.

The guidelines leave it up to your GP to use their own judgement. For example, your GP is not expected to refer you as an urgent case if you have had the same symptoms on and off for years or if you have already had tests that did not show cancer.

Some doctors have specialist expertise in a particularly rare cancer type or rare sub type. Most people who have a rare cancer will first be referred to their local cancer specialist. But if there is another cancer doctor who specialises particularly in treating your type of rare cancer your local cancer doctor may refer you on to them. Or get advice from them in how to treat you.

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Updated: 27 February 2014