Referral to a specialist for symptoms of bile duct cancer

Your GP should arrange for you to see a specialist if you have symptoms that could be due to bile duct cancer. 

Depending on your symptoms and other factors, this might be 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.

UK referral guidelines

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

Some of the UK nations have targets around how quickly you’ll be seen. In England an urgent referral means that you should see a specialist within 2 weeks.

This 2 week time frame is not part of the waiting times for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. But wherever you live, you are seen as quickly as possible. Ask your GP when you are likely to get an appointment.

Urgent referral to a specialist

The referral guidelines vary slightly between the different UK nations. The following is a summary. Your GP will use these guidelines as well as their own experience and judgement.

You should have an urgent referral to a specialist or for tests if you have: 

  • yellowing of the skin (jaundice)
  • unexplained tummy (abdominal) pain and weight loss
  • feeling or being sick continuously, and losing weight
  • a lump below your breastbone (upper abdomen)
  • unexplained loss of appetite or weight loss
  • suddenly being diagnosed with diabetes
Remember, these symptoms can be caused by other conditions, and do not necessarily mean that you have cancer. But it is important to get them checked out.

Other symptoms

Your GP will consider any other symptoms that you are having, so do mention these. They might also take into account whether you have any risk factors that affect your chances of developing bile duct cancer.

If you're still worried

Sometimes you might feel that your GP is not concerned enough about your symptoms. If you think they should be more concerned, print this page and the symptoms page. Ask your GP to talk it through with you. Then you might be able to decide together whether you should see a specialist.

Last reviewed: 
27 Sep 2021
Next review due: 
27 Sep 2024
  • Suspected cancer: recognition and referral

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), June 2015 (updated 2021)

  • Scottish referral guidelines for suspected cancer

    Scottish Government, January 2019 (updated 2020)

  • Guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of cholangiocarcinoma: an update
    SA Khan and others 
    Gut, 2012. Volume 61, Pages 1657-1669

  • Guidelines for the diagnosis and management of intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma
    J Bridgewater and others
    Journal of Hepatology. 2014. Volume 60, Pages 1268-89

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