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Referral to a specialist

Find out when GPs refer people to see a specialist doctor. 

Your GP should arrange for you to see a specialist if you have symptoms that could be due to cancer that started in the liver (primary liver cancer). 

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

Seeing your GP

It can be hard for GPs to decide who may have cancer and who might have 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 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 times 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.

Urgent referral

Your doctor will consider an urgent referral for an ultrasound scan if you have a lump in the upper part of your tummy (abdomen) that feels like a swollen (enlarged) liver.

You may also have an urgent referral to a specialist or for tests if you have:

  • yellowing skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)
  • unexplained pain in your abdomen or back and weight loss
  • feeling or being sick continuously and losing weight
  • unexplained loss of appetite or weight loss
Remember, these symptoms can be caused by other conditions, and do not necessarily mean that you have cancer. But it is important to get them checked out.