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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 thyroid 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. Sometimes, 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.

Scotland, Wales and (in general) Northern Ireland don't have the 2 week time frame to see a specialist. But wherever you live, you are seen as quickly as possible.

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

There are some differences in the guidelines between the different nations. Your GP will use these guidelines as well as their experience and judgement.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland

Your GP should offer you an appointment to see a cancer specialist urgently if you have a lump in your thyroid that can't be explained.

In Scotland

Your GP should refer adults to a specialist if you have a single lump (nodule) in your thyroid that is increasing in size. They should refer a child or teenager aged 16 years or younger if they have a swelling in their thyroid.

The GP should refer you if have a swelling in your thyroid and you have one or more of the following. You:

  • have had radiotherapy to your neck
  • have a family history of cancer of the endocrine system for example thyroid, pancreas, parathyroid
  • have changes to your voice (hoarseness) that can't be explained
  • have swollen lymph glands at the base of your neck

Things to remember

It is important to remember that:

  • thyroid lumps are very common but only 5 in 100 are cancerous
  • thyroid cancer is rare
  • thyroid cancer is more common in women

If you're worried

If you're worried that your GP isn't taking your symptoms seriously, 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.

For information and support, you can contact the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040, from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

Seeing a specialist

Your specialist will ask about your medical history and symptoms. They examine you including your neck area.

If your GP hasn't already taken blood for thyroid tests, you will have some blood taken. This is to check your thyroid hormone levels and to see if the blood contains particular proteins called thyroid antibodies. These blood tests also show whether you have a normal, over active or under active thyroid. 

Then your specialist will arrange other tests in the outpatient department.