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Referral to a specialist

Find out when GPs refer people to see a thyroid cancer specialist.

In England your GP will arrange for you to see a specialist within 2 weeks if you have symptoms that could be due to thyroid cancer.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland don't have the 2 week guideline. But if you have symptoms that could be due to cancer you will be referred for tests or to a specialist as quickly as possible.

Seeing your GP

Most patients who see a GP do not have cancer and have symptoms due to 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.

There are guidelines for GPs to help them decide who needs a referral.

In England

Your GP should offer you an appointment to see a cancer specialist within 2 weeks if you have a lump in your thyroid that can't be explained.

In Scotland

Your GP should refer you to a specialist if you have a single lump (nodule) in your thryroid that is increasing in size. They should refer a child or teenage who has a swelling in their thyroid and they have not yet started puberty.

The GP refer 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

While reading these guidelines, it is important to remember that :

  • thyroid lumps are very common but only 1 in 20 are cancerous
  • thyroid cancer is rare
  • thyroid cancer is more common in women, between 2 and 3 times more women are diagnosed than men

If you are still worried

If you are concerned that your GP is not taking your symptoms as seriously as you think they should, you could print this page and take it along to an appointment. Ask your GP to talk it through with you and then you may be able to decide together whether you need to see a specialist and if so, how soon.

Seeing a specialist

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

If your GP hasn't already taken blood for thyroid tests, you 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. 

Information and help