Referral to a specialist

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

Depending on your symptoms and other factors, this might be an urgent referral. With an urgent referral you should see a specialist within 2 weeks. 

Seeing your GP

Most patients who see a GP do not have cancer and have symptoms due to 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.

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

When your GP should refer you

Your GP should refer you if:

  • you are over 40, with unexplained weight loss and tummy (abdominal) pain 
  • you are over 50, and have unexplained bleeding from your back passage (rectum)
  • you are over 60, and have low iron levels in your blood (anaemia) or change in your bowel habit 
  • your test results show hidden blood in your poo 
  • you have a lump or swelling in your back passage or tummy (abdomen) 
  • you are under 50, with bleeding from your back passage, with either tummy pain, low iron levels or weight loss. 

If you do not have bleeding from your back passage, your GP should offer a test checking for hidden blood in your poo if:

  • you are over 50, and have unexplained pain in your abdomen or weight loss
  • you are under 60, with changes to bowel habits or low iron levels 
  • you are over 60, and have low iron levels 

UK referral guidelines

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and Healthcare Improvement Scotland (HIS) produce guidelines for GPs in the UK. The guidelines help them decide who needs an urgent referral.

If you are still worried

Go back to your GP if your symptoms have not improved, are getting worse or are happening more often. 

If you feel your GP is not taking your symptoms as seriously as you'd like, print this page and take it along to the appointment. Ask your GP to explain why they think you should or shouldn’t have a referral.

  • Colorectal cancer
    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, January 2020

  • Gastrointestinal tract (lower) cancers - recognition and referral
    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (updated February 2021)

  • Localised colon cancer: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up.
    G Argilés and others
    Annals of Oncology, 2020. Volume 31, Issue 10, Pages 1291-1305

  • Association of Coloproctology of Great Britain & Ireland (ACPGBI): Guidelines for the management of cancer of the colon, rectum and anus (2017) – diagnosis, investigations and screening
    C Cunnigham and others
    Colorectal disease, 2017. Volume 19, Pages 1-97

Last reviewed: 
06 Dec 2021
Next review due: 
06 Dec 2024

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