You should see your GP if you notice something that isn't normal for you or if you have any of the possible signs and symptoms of cancer. They examine you and might refer you for tests or to a specialist. It's unlikely that your GP will suspect that you have cancer of unknown primary (CUP) at this stage.
Even if you're worried about what the symptom might be, don't delay seeing them. Your worry is unlikely to go away if you don't make an appointment. The symptoms 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.
Try not to be embarrassed. What you tell your GP is confidential. Doctors are used to discussing intimate problems and will try to put you at ease.
Getting the most out of your GP appointment
When you see the doctor, it can be difficult to remember everything you want to say. These tips will help you get the most out of your appointment.
- Write down your symptoms including when they started, when they happen and how often you have them.
- Write down anything that makes them worse or better.
- Tell your GP if you are worried about cancer.
- Tell them if you have any family history of cancer.
- Take a friend or relative along for support - they could also ask questions and take notes to help you remember what the GP says.
- Ask the GP to explain anything you don’t understand.
- Ask the GP to write things down for you if you think it might help.
Tips for telephone appointments
You might have a telephone appointment with your GP instead of a face to face. You can watch a video with top tips for phone and digital appointments with your doctor. The video lasts 1 minute and 43 seconds.
If you notice a change that isn’t normal for you, contact your doctor. When you speak to the doctors’ receptionist, they may offer you a phone or video appointment.
Ask the receptionist what will happen and check:
- Roughly when the doctor will call you
- That they have the right telephone number for you
- And what number the doctor will call you from
- What to do if you can’t connect or get cut off during the call
- Let them know if you might have problems with phone or video
Try practicing a call with a friend or family member. Make sure you are close to the phone or computer around the time of the appointment, so you don’t miss the call.
Before the call write down your symptoms and when they started, how often you have them and if anything makes them better or worse so you have all the info your doctor might need.
Write down any questions you want to ask as well.
Take the call somewhere quiet, where you won’t be disturbed. And maybe ask someone to listen into the call with you for support. They can help to ask questions and help you to remember what the doctor says.
Tell your doctor if you are worried about cancer and ask them to explain anything you don’t understand and about what will happen next. You could write down the information, so you don’t forget.
Remember if your symptoms don’t go away or get worse contact your doctor again.
Get more advice at CRUK.org/spotcancerearly
What happens during your GP appointment
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms:
- what they are
- when you get them
- whether anything makes them better or worse
They will also ask you about your general health. GP appointments usually only last for a few minutes. So your doctor might ask you to arrange another appointment to talk to you in more detail.
Tests your GP might do
Your doctor might take your blood pressure and pulse (heart rate). Depending on your symptoms, they may also do a general physical examination. They feel for any areas that might be swollen or might not feel normal. If you have any pain they will feel those areas. It might feel tender, or it might be possible to feel a lump.
They may also listen to your chest to find out if it sounds normal. For example, they can listen for signs of fluid collecting.
After your examination, your doctor might arrange for you to have some blood tests. These are usually done at the GP practice. They might also refer you to the hospital for tests or to see a specialist.
Referral to a specialist
Your GP might refer you to a hospital to see a specialist if you have symptoms that could be due to cancer.
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 in preparation 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 can make you anxious.
Speaking to a friend or relative about how you feel might help.
If your GP doesn't think you need any tests or a referral
- 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?
What happens next?
Make sure you know what happens next. Make another appointment if your symptoms don’t clear up, or if they change or get worse.
How to find a GP
If you don’t have a GP, you can find a doctor’s surgery in your local area by going to:
Making a GP appointment
To make an appointment to see your GP you can:
- telephone your GP practice
- book an appointment online through your GP practice website (if they have one)
- use the NHS App
Try different times of the day if it's difficult to get through by phone. It could be particularly busy at the beginning of the day. You don’t have to tell the receptionist what you want to see the doctor for, although sometimes it might help to explain your situation.
You might be able to go in person to book an appointment at some GP practices. But at the moment most practices do not provide this service. It may help to see if your GP practice has a website, this will explain the best way to get an appointment.
The receptionist at your GP’s practice will usually offer you a telephone or video appointment first. Your GP will ask you to make another appointment if they need to see you again. You may be asked to attend in person, especially if they need to examine you. The receptionist will give you a date and time for this.
Accept a booked appointment, even if you think it’s a long time to wait. You could ask about cancellations if you are able to get to the practice at short notice. Do check that they have the right contact details for you, including your telephone number and email.