You should see your doctor if you notice a change that isn't normal for you or if you have any of the possible signs and symptoms of cancer.
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 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.
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.
What happens during your GP appointment
Your doctor needs to build up a picture of what's going on. So they will ask you some questions. These include:
- what symptoms you have
- when you get them
- whether anything makes them better or worse
They will ask you about your general health and any other medical conditions you have.
During the appointment your doctor may want to examine you. You can ask for someone else to be in the room if you want, to act as a chaperone. This chaperone can be a friend or relative, or a trained health professional such as a practice nurse. They can be with you during the examination or throughout the appointment.
If you would rather see a male or a female doctor it is worth asking when you book the appointment.
Your doctor will ask if they can examine you. You lie down on your back with your knees up and legs apart. They use a speculum to gently open your vagina. They can look at your cervix and vagina to see if there is anything abnormal. They might take a swab (sample) to check for infections, such as chlamydia.
They may also do a pelvic examination, called an internal. They put two gloved fingers into your vagina, and at the same time press down on your tummy (abdomen) with their other hand. They may also check your rectum (back passage). They can feel for any lumps or changes in size or shape.
After your examination
Your doctor might need to refer you to hospital for tests, such as a colposcopy to have a closer look at your cervix. Or they might refer you directly to a specialist.
Ask your doctor to explain if they don't think you need a referral or any tests. They might ask you to come back in a week or two if your symptoms continue. Go back if they change or get worse.
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 they don'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
You can book an appointment online at most GP surgeries. Or you can telephone them or go in person. 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.
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. Your surgery might have a clinic where you can turn up and wait to see a doctor. You might have to wait a long time, but you’ll see a doctor that day.
If it’s difficult to get to the surgery, check whether your practice has telephone appointments with a doctor or nurse practitioner. They’ll tell you if you need to go in to see them at the surgery.
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.