Cancer screening

Early diagnosis saves lives

There are 3 national screening programmes in the UK:

  • Bowel cancer screening
  • Breast cancer screening 
  • Cervical screening

You will only be invited for screening if you are registered with a GP. If you aren’t registered, you can find a local GP on the NHS website.

Bowel cancer screening

Around 16,000 people die from bowel cancer each year, making it the UK’s second biggest cancer killer. However, this shouldn’t be the case as the disease is treatable and curable, especially if diagnosed early. An estimated 9 in 10 people will survive bowel cancer if diagnosed at the earliest stage.

Everyone aged 60 to 74 who is registered with a GP and lives in England is automatically sent a bowel cancer screening kit (known as a FIT kit) every 2 years. The home test kit is used to collect a poo sample which is then sent off to a lab and checked for tiny amounts of blood. See the NHS website for more information about taking the test.

If you have any symptoms, see the Bowel Cancer UK website, don’t be embarrassed and don’t ignore them. Doctors are used to seeing lots of people with bowel problems.

Half of all bowel cancers could be prevented by having a healthier lifestyle. We can all act to reduce our risk of bowel cancer by exercising regularly, keeping a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet, and avoiding smoking and drinking too much alcohol. Our Wellbeing advisors can help address these lifestyle issues - visit our Contact us page for details of your local Wellbeing team.

Breast cancer screening

About 1 in 8 women in the UK are diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime. If detected early, treatment is more successful and there's a good chance of recovery.

As the likelihood of getting breast cancer increases with age, all women aged from 50 to their 71st birthday who are registered with a GP are automatically invited for breast cancer screening every 3 years.

Breast screening aims to find breast cancers early. It uses an X-ray test called a mammogram that can spot cancers when they're too small to see or feel. See the NHS website for more information.

It's important to check your breasts regularly for any signs or symptoms of breast cancer, and to see your GP if you notice a change.

Cervical cancer screening

Cervical cancer develops in a woman's cervix (the entrance to the womb from the vagina) when abnormal cells in the lining of the cervix grow in an uncontrolled way and eventually form a growth (tumour). If not caught early cancer cells gradually grow into the surrounding tissues and may spread to other areas of the body.

Cervical screening helps prevent cervical cancer by checking for the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and changes to the cells of the cervix. The NHS Cervical Screening Programme invites all women from the age of 25 to 64 to attend cervical screening (smear test). Women aged 25 to 49 are offered screening every 3 years, and those aged 50 to 64 are offered screening every 5 years.

Cervical screening is also for trans men and non-binary people within this age range who have a cervix. You can talk to your GP about this. If you are over 65 and have never had cervical screening, you can ask your GP for a test if you want one. 

During the screening appointment, a small sample of cells will be taken from your cervix. An abnormal cervical screening test result does not mean you definitely have cancer. More information about cervical screening can be found on the NHS website.

The symptoms of cervical cancer are not always obvious, and may not appear until the cancer has reached an advanced stage. This is why it's very important to attend all your cervical screening appointments and to see your GP if you notice anything unusual. Read more about the symptoms of cervical cancer on the NHS website.

For information about all the screening tests offered to women, see this short video from Public Health England.

HPV vaccine

The HPV vaccine helps protect against human papillomavirus (HPV), a common virus that is spread through skin contact (usually when having sex). Most types of HPV are harmless, but some types are linked to an increased risk of certain types of cancer, including cervical cancer.

It is recommended for children aged 12 to 13 years old and people at higher risk from HPV.

The vaccine is offered to all children aged 12 to 13 (school year 8). If you missed getting vaccinated when you were 12 or 13, it is important to catch up as soon as possible. The HPV vaccine is available for free on the NHS for all girls under 25 and boys born after 1 September 2006.

Contact your school nurse, school vaccination team or GP surgery if you or your child were eligible for the HPV vaccine but did not receive it.

More information about the HPV vaccine can be found on the NHS website.

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