Breast cancer referral guidelines

Our breast cancer referral guidelines will help you to refer patients with suspected breast cancer.

About these guidelines

We have developed our Rapid Referral Guidelines to support GPs with practical referral recommendations for children, young people and adults with symptoms of suspected cancer. The guidelines are endorsed by NICE and summarise the NG12 guidelines for suspected cancer. They can help you decide if a referral is:

Non urgent

Non urgent

Requires routine referral or tests.



Required within two weeks.

Very urgent

Very urgent

Required within 48 hours.

We have recommendations on patient support, safety netting and the diagnostic process.

You can also download a copy of the guidelines (PDF).

Breast cancer referral guidelines

Very urgent

Urgent referral

Urgently refer people (appointment within two weeks) if they are:

  • aged 30 and over with an unexplained breast lump (with or without pain)
  • OR aged 50 and over with any unilateral nipple changes of concern including discharge or retraction.

Consider urgent referral (appointment within two weeks) for people:

  • of any age with skin changes suggestive of breast cancer
  • OR aged 30 or over with an unexplained lump in the axilla.
Non urgent

Non-urgent referral

Consider non-urgent referral in people under the age of 30 with an unexplained breast lump (with or without pain).

Glossary of terms

In these guidelines, we use the below terms in the way they are described.

This is consistent with NICE's NG12 guidance for suspected cancer.

  • Children – from birth to 15 years.
  • Young people – people aged 16–24.
  • Direct access – when a test is performed and primary care retain clinical responsibility throughout, including acting on the result.
  • Immediate – an acute admission or referral occurring within a few hours, or even more quickly, if necessary.
  • Suspected cancer pathway referral – the patient is seen within the national target for cancer referrals (two weeks at the time of publication of the 2015 NICE guidance).

Legal disclaimer

Please note, these guidelines aim to share learning and good practice but, out of necessity, they are brief in nature. They are not a substitute for your own clinical judgement or advice provided to you by a specialist.

Macmillan and NICE will not accept any liability for any type of loss caused by someone acting on information contained in the guidelines, unless liability is enforced by law.