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Referral to a specialist

You usually start by seeing your GP. They will examine you and might refer to a specialist.

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. Ask your GP when you are likely to get an appointment.

In England

Adults

The guidlines say that your GP should arrange an ultrasound scan within 2 weeks if you have an unexplained lump that is increasing in size or directly refer you to the specialist. You should then see a specialist within 2 weeks if the results of the scan are uncertain, or look like you might have a soft tissue sarcoma.

Children and young people

There are specific guidelines for children (0 to 15 years) and young people (16 to 24 years).

The GP should refer children and young people for an urgent ultrasound within 2 days if they have an unexplained lump that is increasing in size. If the results of the scan are concerning or look like a sarcoma, they should see a specialist within 2 days.

These are guidelines only. So your GP may decide to refer you or your child directly to a specialist (without doing tests first). This depends on your situation.

Wales and Northern Ireland

GPs in Wales and Northern Ireland follow the English guidelines in terms of symptoms. There is not a 2 week time frame, but you will have a test or see a specialist as soon as possible. 

In Scotland

Your GP should refer you to see a specialist if you have one or more of the following:

  • a lump that is 5cm or more
  • a lump that is increasing in size
  • a lump that is deeper in the body tissue and is fixed
  • a lump in the same area where you previously had a sarcoma removed
  • your lymph nodes are swollen in this area

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. Together you can decide if you should see a specialist.

Information and help

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About Cancer generously supported by Dangoor Education since 2010.