Seeing your GP when you are worried about prostate cancer
You might go to see your GP because you're worried about prostate cancer. This might be because you know someone with it or have heard about prostate cancer or the PSA test in the news.
Or you might have some urinary symptoms, such as difficulty passing urine.
Whatever reason you have, don't delay seeing your GP. It's important to remember that most prostate cancers don't cause symptoms and it is more likely that any symptoms you have are due to other causes. But if it is, the earlier it is 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.
- 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 can be useful if you find out before your appointment whether any of your family members have had breast or prostate cancer.
Tips for telephone appointments
You might have a telephone appointment with your GP instead of a face to face. You can watch a video with top tips for phone and digital appointments with your doctor. The video lasts 1 minute and 43 seconds.
If you notice a change that isn’t normal for you, contact your doctor. When you speak to the doctors’ receptionist, they may offer you a phone or video appointment.
Ask the receptionist what will happen and check:
Roughly when the doctor will call you
That they have the right telephone number for you
And what number the doctor will call you from
What to do if you can’t connect or get cut off during the call
Let them know if you might have problems with phone or video
Try practising a call with a friend or family member. Make sure you are close to the phone or computer around the time of the appointment, so you don’t miss the call.
Before the call write down your symptoms and when they started, how often you have them and if anything makes them better or worse so you have all the info your doctor might need.
Write down any questions you want to ask as well.
Take the call somewhere quiet, where you won’t be disturbed. And maybe ask someone to listen into the call with you for support. They can help to ask questions and help you to remember what the doctor says.
Tell your doctor if you are worried about cancer and ask them to explain anything you don’t understand and about what will happen next. You could write down the information, so you don’t forget.
Remember if your symptoms don’t go away or get worse contact your doctor again.
Get more advice at CRUK.org/spotcancerearly
What happens during your GP appointment
Your doctor needs to build up a picture of what's going on. So they will ask you some questions. They will ask you about your general health and any other medical conditions you have. They may ask you about any urinary symptoms you may have.
During the appointment your doctor may want to examine you. You can ask for someone else to be in the room if you want, to act as a chaperone. This chaperone can be a friend or relative, or a trained health professional such as a practice nurse. They can be with you during the examination or throughout the appointment.
If you would rather see a male or a female doctor it is worth asking when you book the appointment.
Tests your GP might do
Your doctor might do some general tests. They may check your blood pressure, heart rate and temperature.
Depending on your symptoms, they may also ask you to have a blood test and examine your prostate gland.
PSA blood test
PSA is a protein made by both normal and cancerous prostate cells. It's normal for all men to have some PSA in their blood. A high level of PSA can be a sign of cancer. But a high PSA can also be because of other conditions that aren't cancer, such as infection.
A PSA test on its own doesn't normally diagnose prostate cancer. Your GP will discuss the possible benefits and risks of having a PSA test with you.
Men over 50 can usually ask their doctor for a free PSA blood test.
Examination of your prostate gland
When your doctor examines you, it might include feeling your prostate gland. To do this your doctor puts a gloved finger into your back passage (rectum) to check for abnormal signs. They feel for any lumps or your prostate feeling larger than it should for your age. Doctors call this a digital rectal examination (DRE).
It's normal to feel anxious about this test and it might be uncomfortable. But it usually only lasts a few minutes.
Referral to a specialist
There are guidelines for GPs to help them decide who needs a referral to a specialist.
Depending on your symptoms and the results of your PSA test and prostate examination, this might be an urgent referral.
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?
- I've been reading about prostate cancer and wish to have a PSA test – can you explain why I don’t need one?
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)
- may be able to 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 may 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.