How Long should One Wait for Cancer Referrals and Treatment?

Overview

Cancer is a condition where cells in a specific part of the body grow and reproduce uncontrollably. The cancerous cells can invade and destroy surrounding healthy tissue, including organs.
Cancer sometimes begins in one part of the body before spreading to other areas. This process is known as metastasis.
More than one in three people will develop some form of cancer during their lifetime. In the UK, the four most common types of cancer are:
  • breast cancer
  • lung cancer  
  • prostate cancer 
  • bowel cancer
There are more than 200 different types of cancer, and each is diagnosed and treated in a particular way.You can find links on this page to information about other types of cancer.

Spotting signs of cancer

Changes to your body's normal processes or unusual, unexplained symptoms can sometimes be an early sign of cancer.
Symptoms that need to be checked by a doctor include:
  • a lump that suddenly appears on your body
  • unexplained bleeding
  • changes to your bowel habits
But in many cases your symptoms won't be related to cancer and will be caused by other, non-cancerous health conditions.
 
 

Reducing your risk of cancer

Making some simple changes to your lifestyle can significantly reduce your risk of developing cancer.
For example:
  • healthy eating
  • taking regular exercise
  • not smoking
Read more about how a healthy lifestyle can help reduce your chances of developing cancer.

Cancer treatment

Surgery is the first treatment to try for most types of cancer, as solid tumours can usually be surgically removed.
Two other commonly used treatment methods are:
  • chemotherapy – powerful cancer-killing medication
  • radiotherapy – the controlled use of high-energy X-rays

Waiting times

Accurately diagnosing cancer can take weeks or months. As cancer often develops slowly over several years, waiting for a few weeks won't usually impact on the effectiveness of treatment.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has produced referral guidelines for suspected cancer.
You shouldn't have to wait more than two weeks to see a specialist if your GP suspects you have cancer and urgently refers you.
In cases where cancer has been confirmed, you shouldn't have to wait more than 31 days from the decision to treat to the start of treatment.


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Date published: 22/09/2017
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