Referral to a gallbladder cancer specialist

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

Depending on your symptoms and other factors, this might be an urgent referral.

You will see a specialist or have tests as soon as possible. Ask your GP when this is likely to be.

Seeing your GP

It can be hard for GPs to decide who may have cancer and who might have a more minor condition. Sometimes, your doctor may ask you to wait to see if the symptoms get better or respond to treatment such as antibiotics.

Your GP might arrange for you to have an ultrasound scan Open a glossary item. This will help them decide if you need to see a specialist.

UK Referral guidelines

There are guidelines for GPs to help them decide who needs a referral. These vary slightly between the different UK nations. The below is a summary. Your GP will use these guidelines as well as their own experience and judgement.

England and Wales

Your GP should refer you for an urgent ultrasound scan if you have a lump in your upper tummy (abdomen), that could be an enlarged gallbladder. An urgent scan means it should be done within 2 weeks. 


In Scotland the guidance groups the symptoms of cancer of the pancreas, liver, bile duct and gallbladder together.

You should have an urgent referral if you have a condition called obstructive jaundice Open a glossary item and this is not causing you any pain. 

Your GP should also refer you if you have unexplained weight loss, particularly if you are over 55, and you have one or more of the following: 

  • a lump (mass) in the upper area of your tummy
  • newly diagnosed diabetes Open a glossary item
  • new and unexplained back pain
  • ongoing symptoms affecting the gastrointestinal tract (such as vomiting or feeling full after eating small amounts) and tests such as endoscopy Open a glossary item have not shown a cause
  • an abnormal area found on a scan

Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland the guidance groups together the symptoms of:

  • gallbladder cancer
  • cancer of the food pipe (oesophagus)
  • stomach cancer
  • cancer of the first part of your bowel (duodenum)
  • liver cancer
  • bile duct cancer
  • pancreatic cancer

As these are grouped together, some of the symptoms listed below may not relate to gallbladder cancer. But your GP can use guidance like this to help them decide who to refer urgently.

Your GP should refer you urgently for an endoscopy or to see a specialist if you are any age, have indigestion and any of the following:

  • symptoms such as blood in your poo, or your poo is black or tar-looking due to bleeding in your digestive system Open a glossary item 
  • difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
  • losing weight without trying to
  • being sick and this is not getting better
  • lack of iron Open a glossary item in the body (iron deficiency anaemia) – this is picked up with a blood test
  • a lump (mass) in the upper part of your tummy (abdomen)
  • an abnormal result from a test called a barium Open a glossary item meal

Your GP should refer you urgently for an endoscopy if you are 55 years or older and you have recently developed indigestion that is unexplained.

Your GP should refer you urgently to see a specialist if you have:

  • difficulty swallowing 
  • unexplained pain in the upper part of your tummy and weight loss. You may or may not have back pain with this
  • a lump in the upper part of your tummy and you do not have indigestion
  • obstructive jaundice

Some people with obstructive jaundice will have an urgent ultrasound. Your GP will tell you if this is necessary for you.

Your GP might refer you urgently to see a specialist if you have no sign of indigestion and you are:

  • being sick and this is not getting better and you are losing weight
  • have unexplained weight loss or have a lack of iron in your body

Your GP might refer you urgently to see a specialist if you have unexplained indigestion that is getting worse and you are known to have:

  • Barrett’s oesophagus
  • abnormal cells (dysplasia)
  • inflammation and thinning of the stomach lining (atrophic gastritis)
  • changes to the lining of the food pipe and stomach that looks like the lining of the bowel (intestinal metaplasia)
  • had peptic ulcer surgery over 20 years ago

Remember, these symptoms can be caused by other conditions, and do not necessarily mean that you have gallbladder cancer. But it is important to get them checked out.

Other symptoms

Your GP will consider any other symptoms that you are having, so do mention these. They might also take into account whether you have any risk factors that affect your chances of developing gallbladder cancer. 

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 explain why they don’t think you need a referral.

Contact your GP again if your symptoms don't get better or you notice any new or unusual symptoms. 

What should I do if I don’t get my appointment?

If your GP has referred you, ask them when you should get your appointment. Contact them again if you don’t get one. Or some hospitals have a referral service you could try contacting if you know which hospital you are going to. Explain that you are waiting for an urgent suspected cancer referral.

Waiting times

Your hospital is working towards waiting time targets. For example, a target to find out whether you have cancer or not. And there are targets to start treatment if you are diagnosed with cancer. These are slightly different depending on where you live in the UK.

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