Referral to a specialist for liver cancer

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

The referral guidelines vary between the different UK nations. Your GP will use these guidelines as well as their own experience and judgement.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland

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.

In Scotland

In Scotland the guidance groups the symptoms of liver and pancreatic cancer together.

You should have an urgent referral if you have yellowing of your skin or whites of your eyes (jaundice).

Your GP should also refer you if you have unexplained weight loss, particularly if you are over 55, and have one or more of the following:

  • a lump in the upper area of your tummy 
  • newly diagnosed diabetes
  • new and unexplained pain in your back
  • an abnormal area of the hepatobiliary tract found on a scan
  • ongoing symptoms affecting the gastrointestinal tract (such as vomiting or loss of appetite) and tests such as endoscopy Open a glossary item have not shown a cause
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.

Other symptoms

Your GP will consider any other symptoms that you are having, so do mention these. They might also take into account whether you have any risk factors that affect your chances of developing a liver cancer.

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.

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