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

UK referral guidelines

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

Some of the UK nations have targets around how quickly you’ll be seen. In England an urgent referral means that you should see a specialist within 2 weeks.

This 2 week time frame is not part of the waiting time targets for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. But wherever you live, you are seen as quickly as possible.  

Ask your GP when you are likely to get an appointment.

In the UK there are national guidelines that advise GPs about when they should refer you to a specialist.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines apply to England. GPs in Wales and Northern Ireland generally follow the English guidelines in terms of symptoms.

Your GP should consider referring you to a specialist if you're aged 45 or over and have:

  • a persistent, unexplained hoarseness in your voice
  • or an unexplained lump in your neck

There are rapid access clinics for people with a hoarse voice in many hospitals in the UK. These clinics have been set up so it's quicker to get an appointment. And quicker to get an early diagnosis of the problem.

In Scotland

The Scottish guidelines are general head and neck guidelines. They recommend that your GP or dentist should consider an urgent referral to a specialist if you have any of the following that last for more than 3 weeks:

  • an unexplained lump in the neck
  • a swelling or break (ulceration) on the lip or in your mouth
  • red or red and white patches in your mouth that won't go away (that are not thrush)
  • an unexplained sore or painful throat
  • unexplained painful swallowing
  • an unexplained hoarse voice

Other symptoms

Your doctor might use these guidelines as well as considering other symptoms that you have.

Your doctor might also take into account whether you have any risk factors that affect your chances of developing a laryngeal cancer.

If you are still worried

Do remember that some of these symptoms are usually caused by other less serious medical conditions. They do not always mean that you have laryngeal cancer. A hoarse voice can be caused by smoking, shouting, singing or a throat infection, for example.

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

Information and help