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I have symptoms of cancer what should I do during the coronavirus outbreak?

You should still contact your doctor if you notice a change that isn't normal for you or if you have any possible signs and symptoms of cancer.

One of the symptoms of coronavirus is a new continuous cough. It is important that you tell your GP everything about your cough. And whether you have any other symptoms such as unexpected weight loss, fatigue or loss of appetite. In some people, a continuous cough can also be a symptom of cancer and not coronavirus.

Even if you're worried about what the symptom might be, or about getting coronavirus, don't delay contacting them. Your worry is unlikely to go away if you don't make an appointment. The symptom might not be due to cancer. But if it is, the earlier it's picked up the higher the chance of successful treatment. You won't be wasting your doctor's time.

This video explains the importance of going to your GP if you notice any possible cancer symptoms. It lasts for 31 seconds.

Contacting your GP

The coronavirus outbreak means that GPs are doing more appointments on the phone or online instead of face to face. This is to reduce the risk of coronavirus to them and their patients. When you speak to them, they will ask about your symptoms and tell you if you need to go into the surgery to see a GP.

They may suggest that you keep an eye on your symptoms and arrange another appointment to check in with them after a certain amount of time. Make sure you know when and how to contact them. And contact them again if your symptoms get worse or don’t get better.

Getting the most out of your telephone appointment

When you speak to the doctor, it can be difficult to remember everything you want to say. And it can be difficult to remember everything they say, especially on the phone. There are things you can do to make it easier.

Before your appointment

  • Let your medical team know if you prefer a telephone or video call, or would like a face to face appointment.
  • Let your team know in advance if you're hard of hearing or need an interpreter.
  • Ask for a timeslot when your doctor will call you.
  • Find a quiet part of the house to take the call.
  • Start with a phone call if you’re not confident with a video call.
  • Ask for help if you need it and, if possible, practise a video call with a friend.
  • Write down a list of questions before the call, and think about what you want to find out from the doctor (see ‘Questions you might want to ask your GP’)
  • Ask someone to listen in for support.

During your appointment

  • Do make sure you are close to your phone or computer around the time of your appointment as people often miss telephone calls from their doctor. Your doctor's call might not always be at the exact time of your appointment due to delays in their clinic.
  • If you have someone listening in for support, put your phone on loudspeaker to do this. They could also ask questions and help you remember what the doctor says.
  • Tell your doctor if you are worried about anything in particular.
  • Ask the doctor who you can call if you have any further questions after your phone appointment.
  • Ask them to explain anything you don't understand.
  • Ask your doctor to summarise what the next steps are.

Questions you might want to ask your GP

  • Do I need to see a specialist? Is it urgent?
  • When will I see them?
  • Where will I see them?
  • Will I find out about my appointments by post or telephone?
  • Do I need tests? What will they involve?
  • How long should I expect to wait?
  • Where can I find out more about tests?
  • Do I have to do anything to prepare for this test?
  • When will I get the results and who will tell me?

Your GP might not be able to answer all of your questions. They will tell you what they can at this point. Not knowing is difficult to cope with and might make you feel anxious.

Seeing a specialist and having cancer tests

GPs will make urgent referrals to specialists or for tests if they’re worried you might have cancer. The hospital should contact you to tell you more about your appointment. Your first appointment might be a telephone appointment with a specialist doctor.

Hospital teams might need to prioritise tests and appointments so they can see those most in need. They will base any decisions on the symptoms people have and the risk of them being cancer. They will talk to you about the possible risks of delaying a test until the risks of COVID-19 are fewer.

You might have to wait longer to have tests. This might make you worry more. But your team will have you on a list and make sure you do have the test as soon as possible.

Let your GP or the specialist team know if your symptoms get worse or don’t get better.

If you need to see your GP or specialist, they will follow strict guidance on infection control to protect themselves and other patients. This might include wearing personal protective equipment (PPE).

Before you have tests or scans 

Follow the advice from your hospital. Some hospitals might ask you to isolate before your appointment

It is important to attend any appointments for tests. The only reason not to attend is if you have symptoms of coronavirus. In this case, you should contact the hospital tell them about your symptoms. They will cancel your appointment and you should self isolate. The medical team will talk to you about when you can attend an appointment safely.

If you don't need any tests or a referral or they want to delay it

Questions you might want to ask:

  • Can you explain why I don’t need to have tests or see a specialist?
  • Is there anything I can do to help myself?
  • Do I need to see you again?
  • Who do I contact if my symptoms continue or get worse, especially during the night or at weekends?

More information

You can read more about the symptoms of specific cancers and their tests on the cancer type pages.

Last reviewed: 
24 Feb 2021
Next review due: 
23 Aug 2024