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Being referred for tests and scans

This information is about being referred for tests and scans by your GP via the NHS.

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What tests can my GP do?

Why do I need to be referred for tests and scans?
How long will I wait for tests and scans?
Frequently asked questions about being referred for tests and scans

What tests can my GP do?

Your GP can talk to you about the symptoms you have. They might ask to examine your body. When your GP examines you, they will check for any swollen (enlarged) lymph nodes. These can appear as lumps under your skin. One or more swollen lymph nodes is the most common symptom of lymphoma. However, swollen lymph nodes can also be a sign of a less serious illness, for example a cold or other minor infection.

You might also have simple tests like blood tests or an electrocardiogram (ECG) test at your GP surgery.

Your GP might suggest waiting for 2 to 3 weeks to see if your symptoms get better and the lump goes away if you have a swollen lump or lumps that: 

•    have only been there for up to a couple of weeks 
•    are very small.

Go back to your GP if your symptoms continue, if they are severe, or if you have a lump that gets bigger. They can decide whether it is appropriate to refer you for tests.

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Why do I need to be referred for tests and scans?

It is not possible for your GP to know whether or not you have lymphoma just from examining you. Instead, you need to be referred for further tests at a hospital. 

The test that’s used to check for lymphoma is a biopsy. This is a small procedure that is done under anaesthetic. Doctors take cells from your body and send them to a lab for a specialist doctor called a ‘pathologist’ to look at under a microscope. 

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How long will I wait for tests and scans? 

If your GP thinks there is a possibility that you have lymphoma, you should be seen as quickly as possible by a hospital specialist. Ask them how long you are likely to wait.

Once you are invited to a hospital appointment, it’s important to go to it, even if you’re not given much notice. 

The NHS aims for people with suspected possible cancer to be referred to a hospital specialist as quickly as possible. It also aims to give people timely news of the results of any tests and scans they have.

It can be very difficult waiting for test results. Remember that a referral for tests and scans does not necessarily mean that you you’ll be diagnosed with lymphoma.

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Frequently asked questions about being referred for tests and scans

In this section, we answer some of the questions people often ask about being referred for tests and scans for lymphoma. 

Our helpline services team is here to support you if you’d like to talk about any aspect of lymphoma. However, your GP or a member of your medical team is best-placed to give information specific to your individual situation. 

How do I find out when I have a hospital appointment? 

Your hospital appointment is usually managed by your GP surgery. Ask at your GP surgery how you’ll be told about your hospital appointment. It might come by phone, post, email or text message.

In some cases, the GP or practice nurse might be able to book you an appointment while you’re there. 

If you have been referred to a specialist through the NHS e-Referral Service, you can book your first appointment on the NHS website or through the NHS App. The NHS website has information to help you manage referrals and hospital appointments.

What information will I get about my appointment?

You should be given information about where to go for your tests and scans, which health professionals you’ll see and anything you need to do to prepare. Some people have a list of questions ready to ask about tests and scans, to help make sure they get all the information they would like.

You should be referred to the nearest possible hospital for the appointments you need, but this might not be your local hospital. This is because not all hospitals have lymphoma specialists or the equipment to carry out the tests and scans you might need. In most cases, you have a right to choose which hospital you go to for treatment. You can read about your choices in the NHS on the NHS website.

What tests will I have? 

The tests and scans you have will depend on your symptoms and what your doctor thinks might be causing them. 

A biopsy is the test used to check whether you have lymphoma. It can also give information about the specific type of lymphoma and how fast it’s growing.

We have more information about tests and scans for lymphoma

Can I take someone with me to my hospital appointment? 

You can take someone with you to the hospital, such as a family member or friend. As well as providing emotional support, you could ask them to help you to remember any questions you wanted to ask or to make a note of the information you are given. 

For some tests and scans (for example an MRI scan or X-ray), it isn’t possible for friends or family members to be in the same room as you. However, they can still go with you to the hospital and wait in a different room.

What should I do if I’d like a second opinion? 

If you would like a second opinion, ask your GP or hospital doctor. Alternatively, you can give consent for a family member or carer to ask for you. The NHS is not legally obliged to refer you for a second opinion. If you are not given a second opinion on the NHS and if you are in a position to pay for it, you might consider private healthcare.

Cancer Research UK has more information about getting a second opinion.

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Further reading