Referral to a specialist for symptoms of mesothelioma

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

But there are certain symptoms, which could be caused by pleural mesothelioma, that mean your GP should send you for an urgent chest x-ray or refer you to a specialist.

Urgent chest x-ray

You should have an urgent chest x-ray (within 2 weeks) if you are aged 40 or over and have:

  • changes in the shape of your fingers and nails called finger clubbing
  • chest symptoms that could indicate lung disease, such as a cough, shortness of breath or chest pain

If the chest x-ray shows anything abnormal, you should get an appointment to see a specialist. Ideally, you should see a specialist within two weeks.

Chest x-ray

Your GP should offer you a chest x-ray if you are aged 40 or over and have 2 or more of the following symptoms, or 1 or more of these symptoms and a history of smoking or being exposed to asbestos:

  • a cough
  • tiredness (fatigue)
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain
  • weight loss
  • loss of appetite

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.

Urgent referral

Your GP should arrange for you to see a specialist urgently if you have been exposed to asbestos in the past and have recently developed chest pain and shortness of breath. According to NICE guidelines, an urgent referral means you should see a specialist within 2 weeks of seeing your GP.

There are no guidelines for seeing a specialist for peritoneal mesothelioma. If you know that you have been exposed to asbestos in the past and you have unexplained abdominal symptoms, you should see your GP.

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. Then you might be able to decide together whether you should see a specialist.

Last reviewed: 
26 Aug 2021
Next review due: 
26 Aug 2024
  • Suspected cancer: recognition and referral
    The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), June 2015

  • Scottish referral guidelines for suspected cancer
    Health Improvement Scotland, January 2019

  • Malignant pleural mesothelioma: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines
    ESMO Guidelines Committee
    Annals of Oncology (2015) 26 (suppl 5): v31-v39.

  • British Thoracic Society Guideline for the investigation and management of malignant pleural mesothelioma
    British Thoracic Society and Mesothelioma Guideline Development Group
    Thorax: An international journal of respiratory medicine, March 2018 Volume 73 Supplement 1

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