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

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.

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

UK referral guidelines

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 limit does not exist in 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 England, Wales and Northern Ireland

The guidelines advise that your GP should consider an urgent referral to a specialist if you have either:

  • mouth ulcers that do not go away after 3 weeks or
  • an unexplained lump in the neck that won't go away 

Your GP should consider an urgent referral to a dentist to check for mouth cancer if you have either:

  • a lump on the lip or in your mouth that won't go away or 
  • red or red and white patches in your mouth that won't go away (that are not thrush) 

If your dentist feels that these symptoms could be cancer, then they should refer you to a cancer specialist. 

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 lasts 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 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 mouth or nasopharyngeal cancer.

If you are still worried

If you are worried that your GP is not taking your symptoms as seriously as you think they should, you could print this page and take it to an appointment. Ask your GP to talk it through with you. Then you may be able to decide together whether you need to see a specialist, and how soon. 

Information and help