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. If you're finding it difficult to get an appointment you should keep trying. Your worry is unlikely to go away if you don’t see someone about it.
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
You may have your appointment in person, over the telephone or as a video call. However you speak to your GP 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.
- If you would like to see a male doctor, or would prefer a female doctor, ask when you book the appointment - the receptionist will tell you if it is possible.
- Tell your GP if you are worried about cancer.
- Tell them if you have any family history of cancer.
- Have a friend or relative with you 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 - if you are having a telephone or video appointment ask for the information to be left at reception for you to pick up.
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 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.
Tests your GP might do
Depending on your symptoms your GP might do a general examination. They will feel for any areas that might be swollen or might not feel normal. And if you have any pain they will feel those areas.
They 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 need to refer you to hospital for tests, such as an ultrasound. Or they might refer you directly to a specialist.
Ask your GP 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.
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)
- may be able to use the NHS App
If it's difficult to get through to the GP practice by phone try calling at a different time of the day. Or try calling on a different day. It could be particularly busy in the mornings or on a Monday. Although it can be frustrating you should keep trying. Some GP practices offer to call you back if you are in a telephone queue.
You might be able to go to your GP practice to book an appointment. But not all practices offer this service. It may help to see if your GP practice has a website - this will explain the best way to get an appointment.
You don’t have to tell the receptionist why you want to see the doctor, although sometimes it might help to explain your situation.
You may be asked to attend in person, especially if your GP needs to examine you. Or the receptionist may offer you a telephone or video appointment first. If your GP needs to see you after this they will ask you to make another appointment. 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. Check that the practice has the right details for you, including your telephone number and email.
Contact the GP practice again if your symptoms change or get worse.