Referral to a skin cancer specialist

Your GP should arrange for you to see a specialist if you have symptoms that could be due to certain types of non melanoma skin cancer. Depending on your symptoms and other factors, this might be an urgent referral.

Some GPs have had special training and are able to treat a type of skin cancer called basal cell cancer (BCC). So you might not need a referral to see a specialist.

Seeing your GP

It can be difficult for GPs to decide who may have a suspected cancer and who may have a minor problem that will go away on its own. With many symptoms, it is right that your GP asks you to wait to see if the symptoms get better or respond to treatment.

There are particular symptoms that mean your GP should refer you to a specialist straight away.

UK referral guidelines

There are guidelines for GPs to help them decide who needs a referral.

Some of the UK nations have targets around how quickly you’ll be seen. In England an urgent referral means that you should see a specialist within 2 weeks.

This 2 week time frame is not part of the waiting times for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. But wherever you live, you are seen as quickly as possible. Ask your GP when you are likely to get an appointment.

Urgent referral to a specialist

Your GP should arrange for you to see a specialist if they think you have a:

  • squamous cell cancer (SCC) or melanoma skin cancer
  • rare type of skin cancer
  • basal cell cancer (BCC) that could cause a problem because of its size or position if left

Your GP should also refer you if you are taking medicines or have a medical condition that lowers your immune system. 

Non urgent referral

You normally have a non urgent referral to see a specialist if your GP thinks that you have a basal cell cancer (BCC). There can be a wait up to a few months. BCC is the most common type of non melanoma skin cancer. It generally takes years to develop in most people. So waiting a short time is unlikely to do any harm.

Talk to your GP if you're worried about the wait, particularly if it has taken a while to see your doctor in the first place.

You might have an urgent referral instead if your GP thinks a delay could have an impact on how well treatment might work. This might be because of the size of the possible BCC or where it is on the body.

Who you will see

The multidisciplinary team (MDT) is a team of health professionals who work together to decide on the best way to manage your care. The MDT can include many different health professionals including:

  • skin specialists (dermatologists)
  • plastic surgeons
  • cancer specialists
  • doctors who specialise in reading X-rays and scans (radiologists)
  • specialist nurses
  • GPs with a special interest in skin cancer
  • physiotherapists
  • occupational therapists
  • cosmetic camouflage advisers
  • doctors who make a diagnosis from tissue specimens (histopathologists)
  • pharmacist

There are two levels of multidisciplinary teams - the Local Hospital Skin Cancer MDT and a Specialist Skin Cancer MDT.

Local Hospital Skin Cancer MDTs are likely to be in cancer units in district general hospitals. Specialist Skin Cancer MDTs are usually in larger hospitals that have cancer centres or plastic surgery centres.

You may only see one specialist. But the team have got together with your test results and case notes to discuss the best treatment.

All of the members of these multidisciplinary teams have specialist training in skin cancer and meet regularly. 

Referrals to multidisciplinary teams

Everyone with suspected skin cancer is seen by a member of one of these multidisciplinary teams.

Referral to the Local Hospital Skin Cancer MDT

For a BCC that isn't likely to come back, you might be seen by your GP if they are a member of the Local Hospital Skin Cancer MDT. Your GP may refer you to the Local Hospital Skin Cancer MDT if:

  • you have a BCC that's at a higher risk of coming back or has come back
  • you have a squamous cell cancer (SCC) or melanoma
  • it’s not certain which type of skin cancer you have

Some GPs are specially trained to remove low risk basal cell cancers in their practice. There are a number of features that mean a BCC is considered low risk. These include:

  • a type of BCC called nodular BCC
  • being small (less than 1cm)
  • being in an area of the body where it is easy to remove

Referral to the Specialist Skin Cancer MDT

Your GP or doctor from the Local Hospital Skin Cancer MDT will refer you to the Specialist Skin Cancer MDT if you:

  • have a rare skin cancer
  • have SCC or melanoma that is at higher risk of coming back or has come back
  • have any type of skin cancer that has spread to another part of your body
  • need treatment that the Local Hospital Skin Cancer MDT doesn't provide
  • are taking part in a clinical trial

If you're still worried

Sometimes you might feel that your GP is not concerned enough about your symptoms. If you think they should be more concerned, print this page and the symptoms page. Ask your GP to talk it through with you. Together you can decide if you should see a specialist.

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