Screening and Earlier Diagnosis

Screening is a way of finding out if people have a higher chance of having a health problem, so that early treatment can be offered or information given to help them make informed decisions.

If you are eligible, please make every effort to have your screening test. Screening tests can detect a problem early, before you have any symptoms. Finding out about a problem early can mean that treatment is more effective.

Cervical screening

The NHS cervical screening programme in England is offered to people with a cervix aged from 25 to 64. Routine screening is offered every three years up to 49 years of age and every five years from 50 to 64 years of age.  Depending on the result of the screen, people may be recalled earlier than these routine intervals.

As part of the NHS Cervical Screening Programme, all samples taken at cervical screening appointments are now being tested for high risk Human Papillomavirus (HPV) in the first instance. This is the virus which causes nearly all cervical cancers. Samples that test positive for HPV will then go on to be further analysed with Liquid Based Cytology to detect cell abnormalities.  The new test will identify more people at risk of cervical cancer earlier and could prevent around 600 additional cancers a year.

HPV is a very common virus which effects around 8 in 10 people; it is nothing to be embarrassed about, and in many cases, your immune system will naturally get rid of HPV.

Please see the video below for more information about cervical screening

For more information on the cervical screening programme, please visit the NHS cervical screening pages. Alternatively, visit the website or Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust’s website.

Breast screening

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

Breast screening uses an X-ray test called a mammogram that can spot cancers when they’re too small to see or feel.

Breast screening is offered to women aged 50 to their 71st birthday in England. You’ll first be invited for screening within three years of your 50th birthday

There is also currently a trial to examine the effectiveness of offering some women one extra screen between the ages of 47 and 49, and one between the ages of 71 and 73.

You may be eligible for breast screening before the age of 50 if you have a very high risk of developing breast cancer.

If you are 71 or over, you will stop receiving screening invitations. You can still have screening once you are 71 or over if you want to and can arrange an appointment by contacting your local screening unit.

If you’re worried about breast cancer symptoms, such as a lump or an area of thickened tissue in a breast, or you notice that your breasts look or feel different from what’s normal for you, do not wait to be offered screening. See a GP.

Bowel screening

Bowel cancer survival is improving and has more than doubled in the last 40 years in the UK. If diagnosed early, more than 90% of bowel cancer cases can be treated successfully.

Screening programmes test to see if people show any early signs of cancer. By detecting bowel cancer at an early stage, treatment has a better chance of working.

As part of the NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme, men and women aged 60-74 are sent a home testing kit every two years to collect a small sample of poo to be checked for tiny amounts of blood which could be caused by cancer. In 2019, the home testing kit was changed from the guaiac Faecal Occult Blood Test (gFOBT) to the Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) because it is:

  • more accurate – it can detect smaller signs of blood hidden in poo samples, which can be an early sign of bowel cancer.
  • easier to use – only one sample is required. The gFOBt required three samples to be taken on three different days.

As part of the NHS Long Term Plan, there is also a commitment to lower the bowel screening age to 50 and improve the sensitivity of the screening test further. With support from Public Health England and Health Education England, the NHS is working on plans to safely implement these significant changes, which will include needing extra staff to be trained to undertake extra colonoscopies and other investigations.

For more information on the bowel cancer screening test, please visit the bowel cancer screening pages. You can also find information on the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer on the website.

What is screening?

Screening is a way of identifying apparently healthy people who may have an increased risk of a particular condition. The NHS offers a range of screening tests to different sections of the population.

The aim is to offer screening to the people who are most likely to benefit from it. For example, some screening tests are only offered to newborn babies, while others such as breast screening and abdominal aortic aneurysm screening are only offered to older people.

Screening results

If you get a normal result (a screen negative result) after a screening test, this means you are at low risk of having the condition you were screened for. This does not mean you will never develop the condition in the future, just that you are low risk at the moment.

If you have a higher-risk result (a screen positive result), it means you may have the condition that you’ve been tested for. At this point, you will be offered further tests (called diagnostic tests) to confirm if you have the condition. You can then be offered treatment, advice and support.

Finding out about a problem early can mean that treatment is more effective. However, screening tests are not perfect and they can lead to difficult decisions about having further tests or treatment.

Read more about NHS screening, including the benefits, risks and limitations of screening. –

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