Your urgent referral?

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What is an urgent referral?

Your GP has arranged for you to see a hospital doctor (specialist) urgently. This is to investigate your symptoms further. You might have some tests to find out what is wrong and if it could be cancer.

Your appointment is arranged with you by phone or post. Or you might book your own appointment online. Your GP will explain what to do if this is an option for you.

Is there a time frame for an urgent referral?

Some of the UK nations have targets around how quickly you will be seen.

In England, an urgent referral means that you should see a specialist within 2 weeks. In Northern Ireland, the 2 week wait ONLY applies if you are referred for suspected breast cancer.

This 2 week time limit does not exist in Scotland and Wales. But wherever you live, you are seen as quickly as possible.

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

Does this mean I have cancer?

It is normal to worry when you are urgently referred to see a specialist by your GP. However, 9 in every 10 people (90%) referred this way will not be diagnosed with cancer.

What happens once I’ve been referred?

Exactly what will happen depends on your symptoms and your local services. 

You will need to visit a hospital or clinic to see a specialist or have some tests. You may need to make several visits before you get a diagnosis.

It is very important that you go to your appointment. Call the hospital to rearrange it as soon as possible if you can’t make it.

If you don’t get your appointment within a week or two, call your GP surgery. Tell them you are waiting for an urgent referral.

How can I prepare for my appointments?

Waiting for your appointment can be an anxious time. Your GP should continue to provide support. You can contact them if your symptoms get worse or if you have any concerns.

Taking the time to prepare for your appointment can help you take control of the situation. There are several practical things you can do.

  • Check your appointment letter to see if there is any preparation you need to do or anything you need to take with you.
  • Take the appointment letter with you, it includes important information such as your hospital number and NHS number.
  • Try to take a family member or friend with you, they can keep you company and help you to ask questions and remember what was said.
  • Bring a pen and paper to write things down. It can be useful to look back at later.
  • Think about arranging childcare if you need to.
  • Book time off work as soon as possible – check with your employer if you need to take it as leave, the Citizens Advice website has more information about your rights. 
  • Plan your journey to the hospital in advance. 
  • Check the hospital website for directions to the hospital, public transport links and parking.
  • After some tests you may not be able to drive yourself home, your letter will tell you if you can’t drive.
  • Make sure your mobile phone is fully charged. 

What questions can I ask the specialist?

It may help to write down a list of questions to ask your specialist and bring them to your appointment. These could include

  • If my symptoms get worse, who should I contact?
  • Should I take my medicines as normal?
  • What tests do I need?
  • What am I being tested for and what are you looking for?
  • How reliable are the tests?
  • How long will the tests take?
  • Do I have to do anything to prepare?
  • What will the tests feel like?
  • Do the tests have any after effects?
  • How long will it take to get my test results?
  • Who will give me the test results?
  • Will I need another appointment? Who will I see?
  • Who can I talk to if I have any questions?

I’m having tests, what will they be like?

There are a number of different tests depending on what symptoms you have. You can find information about tests on our Cancer Tests pages.

Where you go in the hospital will depend on the type of test you are having. The appointment letter will tell you where you need to go. It will also have information about anything you need to do before your test. You can phone the hospital if you have any questions.

The people who do your tests may not be able to give you any immediate information about your test results. Usually you will need to wait to speak to your GP or specialist.

How will I get my results?

You could get your results from your GP or your specialist. 

When you have your test, ask the hospital staff when you should expect to have the results and how. For example, by letter or face to face. Contact your GP surgery or your specialist’s secretary if you feel you have been waiting too long.

What happens next?

Depending on your situation, you may get your results quickly, or it could take several weeks.

For people who don’t have cancer, it’s still important that you continue to pay attention to your body. See your doctor again if you have any new, unusual or persistent changes, to make sure there is nothing else wrong.

Some people find a health scare makes them think about improving their general health. For example, by stopping smoking, keeping a healthy weight or cutting down on alcohol. All of these things can help reduce the risk of cancer. You can find out more on our health pages.

Your doctor or nurse will tell you what the next steps are if you are diagnosed with cancer. 

Where can I find out more and who can I talk to for support?

You can find out more about your diagnosis and treatment options on our cancer type pages.

For information and support you can call our confidential Cancer Research UK helpline, staffed by experienced nurses. They are available Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. You can call the nurses on 0808 800 4040.

It really can help to speak to someone about what you are going through and any worries, so do call. 

You can also connect with other people going through similar experiences on our Cancer Chat forum.

Your local hospital may have a support or information centre. These centres are available for anyone affected by cancer. They have people you can talk to and provide written information. You can also ask your GP for details of local counselling services and support groups. 

For more information about local services in different parts of the UK, you can visit

You can get this information as a leaflet.  

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