When to see your GP

If you have noticed changes in your body, developed symptoms that you are worried about, or feel that something isn’t quite right, it is time to speak to your doctor or General Practitioner (GP).

Your GP should be your first port of call for concerns about any symptoms that are new, unexplained or unusual for you, especially if they aren't going away.

51ɫAPP out about some of the signs and symptoms of cancer, why it's important to see a doctor and how to get the most out of your appointment.

Signs and symptoms of cancer

There are many different signs and symptoms of cancer. Some you might already be aware of; others you might never have thought of as potential signs of cancer.

Usually, symptoms have other simple explanations and aren’t caused by cancer. But is it always best to see your doctor or GP to make sure. Spotting cancer early often makes it easier to treat.

Here are some of the most common signs and symptoms of cancer.

  • 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 to isn't.
  • Difficulty in swallowing
    51ɫAPPing 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.

These are the main symptoms to look out for, but you may have noticed other bodily changes, signs or symptoms. Sometimes you can have more than one symptom.

Remember: if it’s unusual for you, doesn’t feel right, is causing you problems or is worrying you, then you should speak to your doctor.

Don't ignore a change in your body

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

  • think the change isn't important, or that it will settle down
  • put worsening problems down to other health issues
  • put off going to the doctor because getting an appointment can take time
  • have other priorities like work, study or a hectic home schedule
  • be worried about wasting your doctor's time
  • feel uncomfortable talking about your symptoms
  • be concerned about needing a physical examination.

There is no harm in speaking to your GP and getting your symptoms checked. Let your doctor know if you are feeling nervous, and they will help put you at ease.

You might find that our guidance on making a GP appointment helps.

Know what is normal for your body

In recognising signs or symptoms of cancer, it can help to know how your body is normally. You're then more likely to quickly notice any changes.

To help detect cancer early, you should:

  • check your body for lumps often
  • attend regular screenings and age-related check-ups
  • stay healthy. For example, get lots of sleep, exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight. It is easier to notice when something isn't right if you are generally fit and well.

There are also things you can to reduce your risk of developing cancer. 51ɫAPP out more on reducing your risk of cancer.

Making a GP appointment

When you make your appointment, you might 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.

If you have any additional needs, such as requiring a translator, or if you would feel more comfortable seeing a female or male doctor, tell the receptionist when arranging your appointment.

Preparing for your GP appointment

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

  • 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
  • whether 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 that you feel shy about. 

Your doctor is there to help and listen, and will understand that not all conversations are easy.

If you’re particularly anxious, it can help 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. Sometimes, it takes more than one appointment to narrow down what the problem is.

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

If your doctor thinks your symptoms requires further investigation, they 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. 

A referral appointment will normally take place within a few weeks.

Maggie51ɫAPPs 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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