Beating bowel cancer together

Visiting your GP about bowel cancer

We know that talking to your GP about poo and going to the toilet can feel embarrassing. We’re here to guide you through what your GP appointment might be like. We’ve also got advice on this page about where to find your nearest GP.

When should I see my GP?

If you have any symptoms of bowel cancer, or if you’re worried about a close family history of bowel cancer, it’s important to see your GP and ask about an at-home test. Even if you have recently done a bowel screening test, you should still speak to your GP as soon as you can if you notice any symptoms or changes.

If you don't have a GP, you can find a list of surgeries on the NHS websites for England, Scotland and Wales and on the Health and Social Care website for Northern Ireland.

We know it can sometimes be difficult to get a GP appointment, but it’s important to keep trying. Remember that your GP is there to help you and to make sure you get the right care at the right time. You may be offered an appointment with another health care professional, for example a nurse or physicians associate, before seeing your GP. You may also be invited to have a telephone or video appointment before having an in-person appointment.

If you’re feeling very unwell or in a lot of pain, call NHS 111 for advice or go to A&E.

What will happen at your appointment?


During your appointment, your GP will ask you some questions about your symptoms, your own medical history and lifestyle, and your family history.

They may ask you the following questions:



  • When did you first notice your symptoms?
  • Do your symptoms come and go?
  • Have you noticed any blood in your bowel movements (poo) or on the toilet paper?
  • Is your poo softer or harder than usual?
  • Are you going to the toilet more or less often than usual?
  • Do you have pain in your stomach area?
  • Have you lost any weight recently?
  • Do you feel tired for no obvious reason?

Medical history and lifestyle


  • Do you have any medical conditions?
  • Do you take any medication regularly?
  • Have there been any changes in your life recently? For example, a change in your diet or new medicines?
  • Are you under any stress?
  • Have you travelled abroad recently?


Family history


  • Do you have any relatives who have cancer, or have had cancer in the past?
  • What type of cancer did they have?
  • How old were they when they were diagnosed?

You can get ready for your appointment by thinking about your answers to some of these questions. You might find it helpful to take notes to help you remember details during your GP appointment.



Your GP may examine you during the appointment. They may feel your stomach area (abdomen) to see if there are any lumps or painful areas. They may also do a digital rectal examination (DRE). This involves putting a gloved finger inside the back passage (anus) to feel for any lumps. This can be uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t be painful and it’s over quickly.


You may have a blood test to check for low levels of red blood cells (anaemia) and to check your liver and kidneys are working properly.

If you have symptoms of bowel cancer, your GP can give you an at-home test, called a faecal immunochemical test (FIT). They may give you the test kit at your appointment, or it might be sent to your home after your appointment. You’ll do this test at home. You’ll collect a small amount of poo. This is sent off to a lab, where they will test for blood in your poo.

If blood is found in your poo, your GP will refer you for more tests at the hospital.

If blood isn't found in your poo, but you're still experiencing symptoms of bowel cancer your GP may still refer you to hospital for more tests, such as further blood tests or another FIT.

You may be given a different type of test kit which tests your poo for signs of infection in the bowel. If you're not sure what type of test you've been given, ask your GP what the test is for.

If your GP doesn't think you're at risk of bowel cancer they may not need to examine you or do any tests. If you're still worried about symptoms, go back to see them again or ask to see another GP. It can sometimes take several GP appointments to find out what’s causing your symptoms.

What happens if my GP thinks I have bowel cancer?

If blood is found in your poo after the at-home test, or your GP thinks you may have bowel cancer because of other signs or symptoms, they will refer you to the hospital for further tests, such as a colonoscopy or blood tests.

Depending on your symptoms, your referral to hospital may be called an urgent referral. This means that you should get a hospital appointment or have more tests within two weeks. If you don't get a specialist appointment within two weeks, ask your GP to check for you.

If your referral is non-urgent, sometimes referred to as a routine referral, ask your GP how long you should expect to wait for an appointment.

Being referred to hospital doesn’t mean that you have bowel cancer. But acting quickly can help to spot bowel cancer early, when it’s most likely to be treatable.

Find out more about hospital tests

Find out more about further tests

Page reviewed: March 2024

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