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Referral to a specialist

Your GP should arrange for you to see a specialist if you have symptoms that could be due to hairy cell leukaemia. 

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.

UK referral guidelines

There are guidelines for GPs to help them decide who needs to have a blood test and be referred to see a specialist. This is usually a blood specialist called a haematologist.

Most of the UK nations have targets for suspected blood cancers, including leukaemia. For example, you might have blood tests very urgently within 2 days. Or you may see a specialist immediately (within a few hours). These time frames are not included in Scotland guidance. But wherever you live, you are seen as quickly as possible.

Hairy cell leukaemia is a chronic leukaemia. Symptoms might develop slowly. Sometimes it does not need an urgent referral. 

It is important to remember that:

  • your symptoms are likely to be caused by something other than cancer, but it is important to have them checked by your GP
  • hairy cell leukaemia is rare

Referral for leukaemia

The UK guidelines are for blood cancers (leukaemia and lymphoma) in general and may not be a sign of hairy cell leukaemia in particular. The adult guidelines vary slightly between the different UK nations. The following is a summary.

Adults should be referred for a full blood count blood test if they have any of the following:

  • look unusually pale
  • extreme tiredness (fatigue)
  • unexplained high temperature (fever)
  • unexplained infections that won't go away or keep coming back
  • swollen lymph glands
  • bruising or bleeding for no reason
  • unexplained petechial rash (red and purple spots on the skin)
  • an enlarged spleen or liver on examination

The GP should then refer them to a blood specialist if blood test results show that they might have leukaemia.

Hairy cell leukaemia is extremely rare in children and young people, so the guidelines for those under 24 years of age have not been included.

Remember most people with one or more of these symptoms don't have leukaemia. But it's important to get any symptoms checked out by your GP.

What to expect

At the hospital the haematologist:

  • asks about your medical history and symptoms
  • examines you

They are likely to take more blood tests. They will arrange for further tests, such as a bone marrow biopsy, to confirm your diagnosis and help them plan your treatment.

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 talk it through with you. Together you can decide if you should see a specialist.