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Referral to a specialist

Your GP should arrange for you to see a specialist if you have symptoms that could be due to a brain or spinal cord tumour. Depending on your symptoms and other factors, this might be an urgent referral.

Many people worry that a constant headache might mean they have a brain tumour. But it's unlikely that you have a brain tumour if headaches are your only symptom. 

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. 

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 limit does not exist in 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

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland

You should have an urgent referral (usually within 2 weeks) for an MRI scan or CT scan of the brain if you are over 25 and you have new symptoms such as:

  • headaches with feeling or being sick
  • personality or behaviour changes
  • fits (seizures) 
  • weakness on one side of your body

You should have a very urgent referral (usually within 48 hours) if you are 24 or younger and you have new symptoms such as behavioural, mental or personality changes.

Your GP is likely to want to talk to someone who knows you well to check if you have personality changes or changes in your mental abilities. This could be your partner or a close relative.

In Scotland

Your GP should refer you to a specialist on the same day (emergency referral) if you have:

  • headaches with feeling or being sick
  • swelling at the back of your eyes (papilloedema)

Your GP should do an urgent referral to a specialist if you have new symptoms such as:

  • personality and behavioural changes
  • fits (seizures)
  • headaches that wake you up at night 
  • headaches with being sick or drowsiness

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. Together you can decide if you should see a specialist.

You could also call the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040. The lines are open from 9am to 5pm, from Monday to Friday.

Information and help

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About Cancer generously supported by Dangoor Education since 2010.