Referral to a specialist

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

General head and neck guidelines

There are general guidelines for all head and neck suspected cancer referrals. These guidelines vary slightly between the different UK nations. The following is a summary.

Your doctor (or sometimes your dentist) might refer you to a specialist urgently if you have:

  • an unexplained lump in the head and neck area

Or any of these symptoms if they don’t get better:

  • a swelling or break (ulceration) on the lips or in the mouth
  • an unexplained sore or painful throat
  • unexplained painful swallowing
  • an unexplained hoarse voice
  • red or red and white patches in your mouth

A symptom that does not get better usually means a symptom that lasts for more than 3 weeks.


Your doctor might use these guidelines as well as considering other symptoms that you have. The most common symptom is a lump or swelling on or near your jaw, or in your mouth or neck. This is often slow growing and not painful.

Your GP might also take into account whether you have any risk factors that affect your chances of developing a salivary gland cancer.

Neck lump clinic

A lump or growth in your neck is a common symptom of head and neck cancer and may be the only symptom you have. Your GP might refer you to a neck lump clinic if there is one at your hospital. 

The neck lump clinic is a one stop clinic. You see a specialist who examines your lump. You then have tests to check for cancer, such as an ultrasound scan. The doctor may take a sample of tissue (fine needle aspiration).

Many neck lumps are not cancer, but it is important to be sure.

Depending on the clinic, you will either: 

  • have a follow up appointment about a week later to get the results
  • or get some or all of the results on the same day

If you are still worried

If you are still worried, it’s worth remembering that salivary gland cancers are very rare. 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.

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