You should see your GP if you notice a change in your skin that isn't normal for you.
Even if you’re worried, you shouldn’t delay seeing them. Your worry is unlikely to go away if you don’t make an appointment. The symptom might not be due to cancer. But if it is, the earlier you pick cancer up, the easier it is to treat. You won't be wasting your doctors time.
You should see your doctor if you have:
- a spot or sore that doesn't heal within 4 weeks
- a spot or sore that hurts, is itchy, crusty, scabs over, or bleeds for more than 4 weeks
- areas where the skin has broken down (an ulcer) and doesn't heal within 4 weeks, and you can't think of a reason for this change
Your doctor can decide if you need tests or a referral to see a specialist.
Getting the most out of your GP appointment
It can be difficult to remember everything you want to say and ask when you see the doctor. These tips will help you get the most out of your appointment:
- Write down your symptoms including when they started.
- Tell your GP if you're worried about cancer in particular.
- Tell your GP if you have a family history of cancer or any other medical conditions.
- Take a friend or relative along for support - they could also ask questions and help you remember what the GP says.
- Ask the GP to explain anything you don’t understand.
- Ask the GP to write things down for you if you think this might help.
- If you have taken photos of your skin remember to take these along with you.
What happens during your GP appointment
Your doctor needs to build up a picture of what's going on. So they will ask you some questions. They will ask you about your general health and any other medical conditions you have.
Depending on your symptoms your doctor might:
- be able to reassure you
- look at the area of skin closely using a dermatoscope (like a magnifying glass)
- take a small sample (biopsy) of skin to be looked at under a microscope
- refer you to a specialist
- be able to diagnose and treat your cancer
Some GPs have had special training and are able to treat your skin cancer. Your GP might use minor surgery or another type of treatment such as light therapy or freezing to get rid of your cancer.
Ask your GP to explain if they don’t think you need a referral or any tests. Go back to the GP if you notice any further changes to the skin.
Questions you might want to ask your GP
- I have this patch of skin that I'm worried may be cancer. Can you remove it, or will I have to go to hospital?
- Do you often do this type of minor surgery?
- Do I need to see a specialist, is it urgent?
- When will I see them?
- Where will I see them?
- Will I find out about my appointments by post or telephone?
- Do I need tests? What will they involve?
- How long should I expect to wait?
- Where can I find out more about tests?
- Do I have to do any preparation for this test?
- When will I get the results and who will tell me?
Your GP might not be able to answer all of your questions. They will tell you what they can at this point. Not knowing is difficult to cope with and can make you anxious.
If they don't think you need any tests or a referral
- Can you explain why I don’t need to have tests or see a specialist?
- Do I need to see you again?
- Who do I contact if my symptoms continue or get worse?
What happens next
Make sure you know what happens next. Contact your GP surgery if you are unsure what the next step is.
Make another appointment to see your GP if symptoms get worse or you have further skin changes.
How to find a GP
If you don’t have a GP, you can find a doctor’s surgery in your local area by going to:
Making a GP appointment
You can book an appointment online at most GP surgeries. Or you can telephone them or go in person. You don’t have to tell the receptionist what you want to see the doctor for, although sometimes it might help to explain your situation.
Try different times of the day if it's difficult to get through by phone. It could be particularly busy at the beginning of the day. Your surgery might have a clinic you can turn up to and wait to see a doctor. You might have to wait a long time, but you’ll see a doctor that day.
If it’s difficult to get to the surgery, check whether your practice has telephone appointments with a doctor or nurse practitioner. They’ll tell you if you need to go in to see them at the surgery.
Accept a booked appointment, even if you think it’s a long time to wait. You could ask about cancellations if you are able to get to the practice at short notice.