You should see your doctor if you notice a change that isn't normal for you or if you have any of the possible signs and symptoms of cancer.
Even if you're worried about what the symptom might be, don't delay seeing them. Your worry is unlikely to go away if you don't make an appointment. The symptom might not be due to cancer. But if it is, the earlier it's picked up the higher the chance of successful treatment. You won't be wasting your doctor's time.
Try not to be embarrassed. What you tell your GP is confidential. Doctors are used to discussing intimate problems and will try to put you at ease.
Getting the most out of your GP appointment
When you see the doctor, it can be difficult to remember everything you want to say. These tips will help you get the most out of your appointment.
- Write down your symptoms including when they started, when they happen and how often you have them.
- Write down anything that makes them worse or better.
- Tell your GP if you are worried about cancer.
- Tell them if you have any family history of cancer.
- Take a friend or relative along for support - they could also ask questions and take notes to help you remember what the GP says.
- Ask the GP to explain anything you don’t understand.
- Ask the GP to write things down for you if you think it might help.
It helps to tell your doctor about any previous breast surgery or breast tests that you have had.
If any family members have had breast or ovarian cancer, let your doctor know.
At your GP appointment
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and how long you have had them. They will also ask you about your general health and will examine your breasts. They might also feel the lymph nodes under your arms and in your neck.
After your examination, your doctor might refer you to a hospital specialist or breast care clinic for tests. Some hospitals have a 'one stop' breast clinic where you can have several tests in one day.
Ask your GP to explain if they don’t think you need a referral or any tests. They might ask you to go back in a week or two if your symptoms continue. Go back if they change or get worse.
Questions you might want to ask your GP
- Do I need to see a specialist? Is it urgent?
- When will I see them?
- Where will I see them?
- Will I find out about my appointments by post or telephone?
- Do I need tests? What will they involve?
- How long should I expect to wait?
- Where can I find out more about tests?
- Do I have to do anything in preparation for this test?
- When will I get the results and who will tell me?
Your GP might not be able to answer all of your questions. They will tell you what they can at this point. Not knowing is difficult to cope with and can make you anxious.
Speaking to a friend or relative about how you feel might help.
If your GP doesn't think you need any tests or a referral
- Can you explain why I don’t need to have tests or see a specialist?
- Is there anything I can do to help myself?
- Do I need to see you again?
- Who do I contact if my symptoms continue or get worse, especially during the night or at weekends?
What happens next?
Make sure you know what happens next. Make another appointment if your symptoms don’t clear up, or if they change or get worse.
How to find a GP
If you don’t have a GP, you can find a doctor’s surgery in your local area by going to:
Making a GP appointment
To make an appointment to see your GP you can:
- telephone your GP practice
- book an appointment online through your GP practice website (if they have one)
- use the NHS App
Try different times of the day if it's difficult to get through by phone. It could be particularly busy at the beginning of the day. You don’t have to tell the receptionist what you want to see the doctor for, although sometimes it might help to explain your situation.
You might be able to go in person to book an appointment at some GP practices. But at the moment most practices do not provide this service. It may help to see if your GP practice has a website, this will explain the best way to get an appointment.
The receptionist at your GP’s practice will usually offer you a telephone or video appointment first. Your GP will ask you to make another appointment if they need to see you again. You may be asked to attend in person, especially if they need to examine you. The receptionist will give you a date and time for this.
Accept a booked appointment, even if you think it’s a long time to wait. You could ask about cancellations if you are able to get to the practice at short notice. Do check that they have the right contact details for you, including your telephone number and email.