Referral to a specialist

There are guidelines GPs have to follow to help them decide who needs to see a specialist for suspected gallbladder cancer, and how soon they need to be seen. 

Seeing your GP

Most patients who see a GP do not have cancer and have symptoms due to 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, such as antibiotics.

There are guidelines for GPs to help them decide who needs a referral.

It is important to remember that:

  • gallbladder cancer is rare
  • it is more common in women (around 450 women and 170 men are diagnosed with this cancer each year in the UK)
  • it is more common in older people (there are few cases in people under 70)

Seeing your specialist

The specialist is usually a gastroenterologist, who is an expert in diseases of the digestive system.

Your specialist will:

  • ask about your medical history and symptoms
  • examine you including your tummy (abdomen) for signs of swelling
  • check the whites of your eyes for yellowing and jaundice
  • examine your lymph glands in your neck and groin to see if they are swollen

Your specialist will feel your glands because gallbladder cancer may spread to the lymph glands. If the lymph glands contain cancer cells, the glands may feel larger than normal.

Guidelines for urgent referral

Your GP should consider referring you for an urgent ultrasound to look for gallbladder cancer if you have a lump in your upper tummy (abdomen) that feels like an enlarged gallbladder.

If you have other symptoms such as pain, jaundice and weight loss, your GP may refer you for further investigations.

UK referral guidelines

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and Healthcare Improvement Scotland (HIS) produce guidelines for GPs in the UK. The guidelines help them decide who needs an urgent referral.

What to do if you are still worried

If you are concerned that your GP is not taking your symptoms as seriously as you think they should, you could print this page and take it along to an appointment. Ask your GP to talk it through with you and then you may be able to decide together whether you need to see a specialist and if so, how soon.

  • Biliary cancer: ESMO clinical practice guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow up. 
    Valle J W et al (2016)
    Annals of Oncology 27 (supplement 5): v28-v37

  • Referral Guidelines for Suspected Cancers
    The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE)
    June 2015

Last reviewed: 
07 Jan 2020

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