How cancers are diagnosed

If you notice any changes to your body, it is important that you visit your GP. There can be different reasons for these changes or symptoms. You may think that other health conditions are causing the symptoms. Or you may think they are just changes that are happening as you get older. But if you have any new symptoms that do not go away, it is important to tell your GP. If your GP wants to find out more, they may arrange different tests or scans.

Sometimes, cancer is found through cancer screening. In the UK, cancer screening is offered for cervical, breast and bowel cancer.

Visiting your GP

Before visiting your GP, it is a good idea to plan what you want to say. You could write down any questions you have. You may also want to record any symptoms you have. You could use a symptom diary for this. A symptom diary can help you describe your symptoms when you visit your GP. This will help your GP decide what the problem may be. They will want to know how long you have had the symptoms. They may ask if anything makes the symptoms better or worse.

Your GP may examine you and arrange some tests. This will depend on the symptoms you have. They will explain what tests you may need.

Referral guidelines help GPs decide what tests you should have and how quickly you should see a specialist. The guidelines include risk factors, and the signs and symptoms that a cancer may cause. If your GP thinks cancer could be causing your symptoms, they will refer you to a specialist as soon as possible. This is called an urgent referral.

Sometimes, other health problems may be causing the symptoms. Most people who have an urgent referral will not be diagnosed with cancer.

Your GP should explain the reason for any tests or referrals. Tell your doctor if you are worried about cancer. They can give you more information and support.

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Back to Understanding

What is cancer?

There are more than 200 different types of cancer. Each type has its own name and treatment.

Cancer and cell types

Cancers are grouped into types. Types of cancer often behave and respond to treatments in different ways.

How is cancer treated?

There are many types of cancer treatment. Depending on the cancer type, you may have one treatment or a combination.

Why do cancers come back?

Sometimes, tiny cancer cells are left behind after cancer treatment. These can divide and grow to form a cancer.