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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 oesophageal 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 limit does not exist in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. But wherever you live, you are seen as quickly as possible.

These guidelines vary slightly between the different UK nations. The following is a summary.

Ask your GP when you are likely to get an appointment

Urgent referral

You should get an appointment within 2 weeks for an endoscopy test to look inside your food pipe if you have difficulty swallowing (dysphagia).

You should also have an urgent referral if you’re 55 or older, have lost weight and have any of the following symptoms:

  • pain in your upper tummy (abdomen)
  • heartburn or acid indigestion (stomach acid coming back up into the food pipe)
  • indigestion (dyspepsia)

You might also have an urgent referral if you have new vomiting that lasts for more than 2 weeks. Or if you're 55 or over and have unexplained low iron levels in your blood (anaemia).

You might have an urgent referral if you have indigestion that is getting worse and you have an increased risk of oesophageal cancer. For example, you have

  • cell changes in the lining of your food pipe
  • a condition called Barrett’s oesophagus

Immediate referral

Your GP should consider referring you for an endoscopy as soon as possible if you've been vomiting blood (haemetemesis).

Non urgent referral

A non urgent referral means you can expect to see a specialist within 6 weeks of seeing your GP.

Your GP should consider referring you for a non urgent endoscopy if you are 55 or older and have
  • indigestion that hasn't improved with medicines
  • pain in your upper tummy (abdomen) and low levels of red blood cells (anaemia)
Your GP should also consider referring you if you’re 55 or older and have a raised platelet count or nausea and vomiting with any of these
  • weight loss
  • heartburn or acid indigestion (reflux)
  • indigestion
  • pain in your upper tummy (abdomen)

If you are still worried

You could make another appointment with your GP if you are concerned they are not taking your symptoms seriously.

You could print this page and ask your GP to talk it through with you. Then you might be able to decide together whether you need to see a specialist.

Information and help

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About Cancer generously supported by Dangoor Education since 2010.