Cancer Research UK on Google+ Cancer Research UK on Facebook Cancer Research UK on Twitter

Should I see an oesophageal cancer specialist?

Men and women discussing non oesophageal cancer

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

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Should I see an oesophageal cancer specialist?

It can be very difficult for GPs to decide who may have a suspected cancer and who has something much less serious. But some particular symptoms require urgent attention. UK guidelines say that the following symptoms need an urgent referral to a specialist, ideally within 2 weeks.

  • Indigestion (dyspepsia) at any age, in combination with any of the following symptoms – weight loss, being sick, chronic bleeding from your food pipe or stomach, a low red blood cell count (anaemia), difficulty swallowing (called dysphagia), a swelling or lump in your upper abdomen, or a barium meal result that suggests you could have oesophageal cancer
  • Indigestion without other symptoms in anyone aged 55 or over, that has come on recently and that your GP can't explain
  • Difficulty in swallowing, at any age
  • Unexplained abdominal pain and weight loss, with or without back pain, at any age
  • A lump in your upper abdomen, at any age

Your GP should refer you to a specialist if you don't have indigestion but do have other symptoms such as being sick continuously, weight loss or anaemia that your doctor can't explain.

If you have symptoms and do not think your GP is taking them seriously enough, you could print out this page and take it to your appointment.
 

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

 

 

How common oesophageal cancer is

There are around 8,300 cases of oesophageal cancer diagnosed in the UK each year. About 3 out of every 100 cancers diagnosed (3%) are oesophageal cancers. It is more common in men than women and, as with most cancers, is more common in older people.

 

About these guidelines

It can be very difficult for GPs to decide who may have a suspected cancer and who may have something much more minor that will go away on its own. With many symptoms, it is perfectly right that your GP should ask you to wait to see if they get better or respond to simple treatments. If GPs referred everyone who came to see them 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 guidelines for GPs to help them decide which patients need to be seen urgently by a specialist. While reading these guidelines, it is important to remember that

  • Indigestion is a very common complaint, and is usually not serious
  • Oesophageal cancer is more common in older people - around 8 in 10 cases (80%) are diagnosed in people aged 60 or over. It is very rare in people under the age of 40.
 

Guidelines for urgent referral

According to Department of Health guidelines, you should ideally get an appointment within 2 weeks for an urgent referral. You may need urgent referral for an endoscopy or to see an oesophageal cancer specialist if you have

  • Indigestion (dyspepsia) at any age, in combination with any of the following symptoms - weight loss, being sick, chronic bleeding from the food pipe or stomach, a low red blood cell count (anaemia), difficulty swallowing (called dysphagia), a swelling or lump in your upper abdomen, or a barium meal result that suggests you could have oesophageal cancer
  • Indigestion without other symptoms in anyone aged 55 or over, that has come on recently and that your GP can't explain
  • Difficulty in swallowing, at any age
  • Unexplained abdominal pain and weight loss, with or without back pain, at any age
  • A lump in your upper abdomen, at any age

If you don't have indigestion but have the following symptoms, your GP should consider the possibility of oesophageal cancer and might make an urgent referral for further tests

  • Being sick continuously, and losing weight
  • Weight loss or anaemia that your doctor can't explain

If you are referred for an urgent endoscopy your doctor will temporarily stop any drugs you are on for indigestion. Ideally you should be off these for at least 2 weeks before the test. Your GP might also arrange for you to have a blood test to check for anaemia.

 

Risk factors

Your doctor may urgently refer you to a specialist if you have indigestion that is getting worse and you have an increased risk of oesophageal cancer. For example, you have

There is more information about the possible risks factors and symptoms of cancer of the oesophagus in this section.

 

What to do 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.

Rate this page:
Submit rating

 

Rated 4 out of 5 based on 5 votes
Rate this page
Rate this page for no comments box
Please enter feedback to continue submitting
Send feedback
Question about cancer? Contact our information nurse team

No Error

Updated: 26 March 2014