When to see your GP

You may be aware of changes within your body. You might have developed signs or symptoms which are worrying you or you might just know something is not quite right.  

This page will help you understand when you shouldn't ignore symptoms and who to talk to if you're worried you might have cancer.

Know your normal

It can help to know how your body is normally. You’re then likely to note any changes quickly:

  • Check for lumps often
  • Attend regular screenings
  • Keep yourself in good health. For example, get lots of sleep, exercise and maintain a healthy weight

Don't ignore a change in your body

There are lots of reasons why you might ignore a sign or symptom of cancer.

Sometimes we tell ourselves that a change isn't important, or that it will settle down.

We might put off going to the doctor because getting an appointment can sometimes take time, it may feel embarassing or there may be other priorities like work, study or a hectic home schedule.

You may put worsening problems down to previous health issues. 

If a symptom is new, or getting worse, is unexplained, or impacts on your life in any way – it’s time to make a GP appointment. 

If it is cancer, picking it up early often means it can be treated successfully.

Signs and symptoms of cancer

Some signs and symptoms of cancer are more well known than others and sometimes you can have more than one.

If you have signs and symptoms, then do see your GP. It probably won't be cancer but if it is then finding it early will give you more treatment options.

  • Breast changes
    A lump, or change in shape of the breast, itching/redness, puckering or indentation
  • Change in bowel habits
    This could include passing blood or mucus with your stools (poo), looser stools, or periods of constipation
  • Shortness of breath
    It’s natural to be out of breath after exercise, but it's not normal to be breathless without reason
  • Unexplained weight loss
    Some weight changes are normal, but losing lot of weight without trying isn't
  • Difficulty in swallowing
    Finding it hard to swallow food or drink, or a feeling of indigestion or food ‘getting stuck’ in your gullet
  • Bloated tummy
    If you feel bloated and uncomfortable most days, and this is new to you
  • Problems passing urine (wee)
    Blood, pain or a slow or trickling stream when you pass urine
  • A cough that won't go away
    A persistent cough that's lasting for more than a couple of weeks
  • A new mole or changes to an existing mole
    If it’s itchy, darker, irregular in shape, or is concerning you in any way
  • Night sweats
    Drenching the bed and your nightclothes may be medication related, an infection, or caused by hormonal changes such as the menopause. However, it can also be a sign of cancer
  • New lumps or swellings
    This might be in your armpit, groin, testicle, breast, neck or elsewhere in your body
  • Any new or unexplained pain
    Unexplained pain that is causing you discomfort, particularly if it is not going away – whether it’s constant or comes and goes 
  • Vaginal bleeding
    Bleeding or spotting between periods, after the menopause, or after sex

Whilst these are the main symptoms to look out for, there may be other bodily changes, signs or symptoms you may have noticed.

If it’s new to you, doesn’t feel right, is causing you problems or worrying you then see your doctor. 

Making a GP appointment

When you make your appointment you may be asked why you want to see the doctor. You don't have to go into detail if you don't want to – you can just say you're worried about new symptoms.

Be firm but polite if you feel the appointment you're being offered isn't soon enough.

If you're prepared to see another doctor in the practice, or a practice nurse it may help you to be seen sooner.

Before your appointment

It can help to write down what you want to say before your appointment:

  • What your symptoms are
  • When they first started
  • How often they occur
  • What makes them better or worse
  • Any medications you’ve been taking to help
  • Do you have a family history of cancer?

In your appointment

Be honest. Don’t be tempted to play down symptoms, and let your GP know of anything new or unusual you’ve noticed.

Try not to be embarrassed if it’s a bodily function, or part of the body which you feel shy about. Your doctor is there to help and listen, and will understand that not all conversations are easy.

It can help, if you’re particularly anxious, to take someone with you. They can take notes and be another ‘set of ears’ if a lot of information is being discussed.

What will happen next?

Symptoms of cancer can be similar to many other conditions and sometimes it takes more than one appointment to narrow down what the problem is.

Your doctor might make an urgent referral for you to see a specialist or organise some tests. It doesn’t necessarily mean they think you have cancer, but it can rule it out quickly.

Don’t be afraid to make another appointment if your symptoms continue or they are getting worse. 

Maggie’s is here with you

Your visit to the GP may raise further questions that you want to go through with someone.

If the doctor suggests an urgent referral, this can naturally cause anxiety and the wait for further tests and appointments can feel very stressful.

Our Cancer Support Specialists are here to listen to your concerns and find the help you need.

Last review: Oct 2021 | Next review: Oct 2022

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