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Suspected Cancer Referral Pathway

Cancer referrals

There are waiting time targets for the diagnosis and treatment of cancer in the different UK nations. The aim for all healthcare systems within the UK is to make sure that you have a diagnosis and start treatment as soon as possible.

Although there are targets, it’s not possible to say for sure how long it will take in your situation. Ask your GP or your specialist (if you have one). They may be able to give you an idea about waiting times for your area.

Having to wait

Getting a diagnosis of cancer can sometimes take a while. Sometimes it might feel that you are waiting too long. Usually everyone will have to wait for appointments, tests and results. Only then can you start treatment. This can be frustrating and difficult to cope with.

You may begin to worry that the cancer will spread during this time. But we know that most cancers usually grow slowly. So waiting a few weeks for a test or treatment does not usually affect how well the treatment works.

The different UK nations have their own targets around:

  • referral for suspected cancer
  • waiting times to a diagnosis
  • waiting times to start treatment

Urgent suspected cancer referral

Your GP, dentist, optometrist (eye doctor) or nurse will arrange your referral to see a hospital doctor (specialist), or to have tests. They should tell you if this is an urgent suspected cancer referral. An urgent referral can be worrying. But remember that more than 9 in every 10 people (more than 90%) referred this way will not have a diagnosis of cancer.

In England, an urgent referral used to mean that you should see a specialist within 2 weeks. From October 2023 this 2 week timeframe was removed as part of a wider NHS England plan. It was replaced by the Faster Diagnosis standard (FDS) (see below) . A GP will continue to refer someone urgently if they think they might have cancer. This practice won’t change.

GPs have guidelines to help them decide who they should refer. They use these as well as their judgement and experience. The guidelines recommend that some symptoms need more urgent action than other symptoms. For example, some people who are very unwell with suspected leukaemia need a referral within a few hours or a couple of days. Some people with suspected lung cancer need to have an x-ray within 2 weeks.

You will still see a specialist or have tests as soon as possible. Ask your GP when this is likely to be. Get back in touch with them if you don’t get your appointment within this time.

The Cancer Care Navigator role in your care

Waiting for appointments can be stressful for patients. Here at The Dudley Group we have a team of cancer navigators to help and support you throughout this pathway. They will be your point of contact. Your care will be coordinated by this team. Care coordination is not one person’s role or responsibility. It is about joining up services, coordination, providing information and communication between care givers, treatment providers and their families to create a seamless service.

You can contact a cancer care navigator through:

The Living with and beyond cancer team (LWBC)

01384456111 extension 5315

We currently have Cancer care navigators within the following teams:

Urology: Audrey Myrie

Oncology: Ellis Wakeman

Haematology: Rachel Mecrow

Skin: Poonam Sampla

Breast: Recruited


Head and Neck:


Gynaecology: Claire Mitchell