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Referral to a specialist

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

Cancer that starts in the bone (primary bone cancer) is very rare. Most bone cancers are diagnosed in children, teenagers or young adults. Half of all bone cancers are in or near the knee. 

Your GP should arrange for you to see a specialist if you have symptoms that could be due to bone cancer.  A bone specialist is called an orthopaedic doctor.

Seeing your GP

It can be hard for GPs to decide who may have bone 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 or painkillers.

Your GP will send you for an x-ray if you have bone pain or other symptoms that could be caused by bone cancer. They are done in the outpatient department of the hospital.

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

Adults

You should have an urgent referral if your x-ray shows that you might have bone cancer.

Children and young people

If you are a child, teenager or young person (up to 24 years) with bone swelling or pain, you should have an urgent x-ray within 2 days. Your GP should refer you to a specialist within 2 days if the results of your x-ray suggest you might have a bone cancer.

If you've had cancer before

If you've had cancer before, your GP will probably arrange for you to see your original cancer specialist if you have symptoms of cancer in your bones.

Primary bone cancers are very rare and it is more likely that your symptoms could be caused by your original cancer spreading to the bones, rather than a new primary bone cancer.

Even if you have had cancer before, your symptoms may be caused by something completely different. They are not necessarily a sign of the cancer coming back.

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.

For information and support, you can contact the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040, from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

Information and help