Cancer screening is the regular use of certain examinations or tests which make it possible to identify cancer at an early stage (when there are no symptoms) when treatment is most likely to be effective.
There are national cancer screening programmes for breast, cervical and bowel cancer.
The NHS Breast Screening Programme
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK with about 48,000 women getting it each year. Most (8 out of 10) are over 50, but younger women, and in rare cases, men, can also get breast cancer.
- All women over 50 should have a mammogram (x-ray picture of the breast) every three years. This is available at your local hospital or mobile screening unit.
- Women aged 50-70 are invited to attend an appointment every three years.
- Women aged over 70 can make their own appointments.
A review of the breast cancer screening programme estimated that it saves around 1,400 lives a year in England.
Please speak to your GP if you have not received an invitation to attend an appointment.
The NHS Cervical Screening Programme
Cervical cancer is one of the few preventable cancers, because screening picks up pre-cancerous changes.
The test, used to detect abnormal cells on the cervix, prevents up to 75% of cervical cancers. Cancer Research UK scientists estimate that the programme saves more than 4,500 lives in England annually.
- Women aged 25 to 49 should attend a cervical cancer screening every three years.
- Women aged 50 to 64 should attend a cervical cancer screening every five years.
You should be invited to attend your screening; if you have not please contact your GP for details.
The NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme
Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in the UK, and the second leading cause of cancer deaths. Regular bowel cancer screening has been shown to reduce the risk of dying from bowel cancer by 16%.
All men and women over 60 should complete a bowel screening test every two years. Speak to your GP about receiving a free screening test.
To speak to someone over the phone call the NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme helpline on 0800 707 6060 or the Bowel Cancer UK Advisory Service on 0800 840 3540.
There is no national screening programme for prostate cancer