You should see your doctor if you notice a change that isn't normal for you or if you have any of the possible signs and symptoms of cancer.
Even if you're worried about what the symptom might be, don'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 it's picked up the higher the chance of successful treatment. You won't be wasting your doctor's time.
Try not to be embarrassed. What you tell your GP is confidential. Doctors are used to discussing intimate problems and will try to put you at ease.
Getting the most out of your GP appointment
When you see the doctor, it can be difficult to remember everything you want to say. These tips will help you get the most out of your appointment.
- Write down your symptoms including when they started, when they happen and how often you have them.
- Write down anything that makes them worse or better.
- Tell your GP if you are worried about cancer.
- Tell them if you have any family history of cancer.
- Take a friend or relative along for support - they could also ask questions and take notes to 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 it might help.
If you notice a change that isn’t normal for you, contact your doctor. When you speak to the doctors’ receptionist, they may offer you a phone or video appointment.
Ask the receptionist what will happen and check:
Roughly when the doctor will call you
That they have the right telephone number for you
And what number the doctor will call you from
What to do if you can’t connect or get cut off during the call
Let them know if you might have problems with phone or video
Try practicing a call with a friend or family member. Make sure you are close to the phone or computer around the time of the appointment, so you don’t miss the call.
Before the call write down your symptoms and when they started, how often you have them and if anything makes them better or worse so you have all the info your doctor might need.
Write down any questions you want to ask as well.
Take the call somewhere quiet, where you won’t be disturbed. And maybe ask someone to listen into the call with you for support. They can help to ask questions and help you to remember what the doctor says.
Tell your doctor if you are worried about cancer and ask them to explain anything you don’t understand and about what will happen next. You could write down the information, so you don’t forget.
Remember if your symptoms don’t go away or get worse contact your doctor again.
Get more advice at CRUK.org/spotcancerearly
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. These include:
- what symptoms you have
- when you get them
- whether anything makes them better or worse
They will ask you about your general health and any other medical conditions you have.
During the appointment your doctor may want to examine you. You can ask for someone else to be in the room if you want, to act as a chaperone. This chaperone can be a friend or relative, or a trained health professional such as a practice nurse. They can be with you during the examination or throughout the appointment.
If you would rather see a male or a female doctor it is worth asking when you book the appointment.
You may have an internal examination. Your doctor will ask if they can examine you. You lie down on your back with your knees up and legs apart. Your doctor uses a speculum to gently open your vagina. They can look at your vagina and cervix to see if there is anything abnormal.
They may also do a pelvic examination. They put two gloved fingers into your vagina, and at the same time press down on your tummy (abdomen) with their other hand. They may also check your rectum (back passage). They can feel for any lumps or changes in size or shape.
They might also feel the groins on both sides. They are checking for any enlarged lymph nodes or lumps in this area.
Some people may find this examination embarrassing and it can be uncomfortable. Your GP will be as gentle as possible and try to put you at ease. You can ask to have someone else in the room with you.
After your examination
Depending on your symptoms and physical examination, your doctor might:
- be able to reassure you
- refer you to the hospital for tests or to see a specialist
Ask your GP to explain if they don't think you need a referral or any tests. They might ask you to come back in a week or two if your symptoms continue. Go back if they change or get worse.
Some people don't have any symptoms. You may be referred to a specialist if an abnormality is picked up on a routine examination, or after investigations for an abnormal cervical screening test result.
Questions you might want to ask your GP
- 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 anything in 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.
Speaking to a friend or relative about how you feel might help.
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?
- Is there anything I can do to help myself?
- Do I need to see you again?
- Who do I contact if my symptoms continue or get worse, especially during the night or at weekends?
What happens next?
Make sure you know what happens next. Make another appointment if your symptoms don’t clear up, or if they change or get worse.
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
To make an appointment to see your GP you can:
- telephone your GP practice
- book an appointment online through your GP practice website (if they have one)
- use the NHS App
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. 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.
You might be able to go in person to book an appointment at some GP practices. But at the moment most practices do not provide this service. It may help to see if your GP practice has a website, this will explain the best way to get an appointment.
The receptionist at your GP’s practice will usually offer you a telephone or video appointment first. Your GP will ask you to make another appointment if they need to see you again. You may be asked to attend in person, especially if they need to examine you. The receptionist will give you a date and time for this.
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. Do check that they have the right contact details for you, including your telephone number and email.