The UK has 3 Cancer Screening Programmes

Screening means testing people for early stages of cancer before they have any symptoms.

Cervical cancer screening

Breast cancer screening

Bowel cancer screening


What is cervical screening?

Cervical screening is a test to find changes in the cervical cells before cervical cancer develops. It tests for a human papilloma virus (HPV). High risk HPV can cause cervical cell changes. If high risk HPV is found, the laboratory will test your sample for abnormal cells.


Who can have cervical screening?

The NHS cervical screening program invites women from age 25 to 64.

You get an invite every 3 years between age 25 to 49 and every 5 years between age 50 to 64. You need to be registered with a GP to get your screening invitations.

You can book your cervical screening appointment at your GP practice or at St Marks.

It should be on a day when you are not having your period. The test itself only takes a minute or two.

Please see this video about the test procedure Click here


Screening results

It usually takes around 2 to 6 weeks to get the results which will come as a letter.

What happens if I test positive for HVP?

The laboratory will test your sample for cell changes. If there are cell changes you will be invited for a colposcopy to have a closer look at your cervix. If there are no cell changes you will be invited back for cervical screening earlier than normal. This is usually after 1 year.

What happens if I test negative for HPV?

Your sample will not be tested for cell changes. Cell changes or cervical cancer are unlikely to develop without HPV. So you will be invited back for cervical screening in 3 or 5 year time, depending on your age.


Possible benefits and risks of cervical screening


Possible benefit

Cervical screening helps prevent cervical cancer from developing and saves thousands of lives every year in the UK.



Cervical screening works very well but, like any screening test, it isn’t perfect.

In a few cases, tests will seem to find abnormal changes that aren’t really there. This is called a false positive result. It leads to unnecessary worry and also the need for more tests.

There is also a risk that cell changes may be missed. This is called a false negative result. So it is important to see your GP if something doesn’t feel right for you.


If you have symptoms

See your doctor or nurse if you notice anything unusual.

Check for:

· abnormal bleeding (such as bleeding between periods or after sex)

· vaginal discharge that smells unpleasant

· pain during sex

There are many conditions that can cause these symptoms. Most of them are much more common than cervical cancer. But it is important to get your symptoms checked out.


Cervical screening is also for some transgender or non-binary people. Talk to your practice or Gender Identity Clinic about this. Information was prepared using


What is breast screening?

Cancer screening involves testing apparently healthy people for signs that could show that a cancer is developing.

Breast screening uses a test called mammography which involves taking special x-rays of the breasts. Screening can help to find breast cancers early when they are too small to see or feel. These tiny breast cancers are usually easier to treat than larger ones and they have the best chance of being cured.


Who can have breast screening?

The NHS Breast Screening Programme invites all women from the age of 50 to 70 for screening every 3 years.

If you are older than 70, you can still have screening every 3 years but you won't automatically be invited. To make an appointment contact the local breast screening unit on 0300 6146648.

If you are younger than 50, your risk of breast cancer is generally very low. Mammograms are more difficult to read in younger women because their breast tissue is denser. So the patterns on the mammogram don't show up as well. There is little evidence to show that regular mammograms for women below the screening age would reduce deaths from breast cancer.

Please see this video about the test procedure Click here


Screening results

You should get your results within 2 weeks. The radiographer can tell you when to expect yours. Most women have a normal reading.

If you have a normal result

You will receive a letter to let you know your mammogram does not show any signs of cancer. Your next screening appointment will be in 3 years’ time. Do contact your GP or local screening unit if you haven’t received an appointment and think you are due one.

It is important to see your GP If you notice any symptoms between your screening mammograms.

If the results aren't clear

If the x-ray isn't clear enough or shows any abnormal areas, the clinic staff will call you back for more tests. You might need to have the x-rays taken again.


If you are called back

Around 4 out of 100 women (around 4%) are called back for more tests. If this happens, you might feel very worried. But many of these women won’t have cancer.

If you are called back because your mammogram showed an abnormal area, you might have a magnified mammogram. This can show up particular areas of the breasts more clearly. You might also have an ultrasound scan of the breast or a test to take a sample of cells from the abnormal area (biopsy).


Possible benefits of breast screening

Breast cancers found by screening are generally at an early stage. Very early breast cancers are usually easier to treat, may need less treatment, and are more likely to be cured.

The current evidence suggests that breast screening reduces the number of deaths from breast cancer by about 1,300 a year in the UK.

Almost all women diagnosed with breast cancer at the earliest possible stage survive for at least 5 years after diagnosis and are likely to be cured.


Risks of breast screening

Although breast screening can find many cancers early, it isn't perfect. There are some risks, and some people may have a false positive or false negative result.

What is a false negative result?

Screening doesn't always find a cancer that is there. So some people with breast cancer will be missed. This is called a false negative result.


What is a false positive result?

In some women, the test picks up something even though they don't have breast cancer. This is called a false positive result and can lead to anxiety and further tests such as a breast biopsy.


What happens if I have breast implants?

A mammogram is still the best way to detect early breast cancer, even if you have breast implants. But a small amount of the breast tissue might be hidden by the implant.

This means that it is not as easy to see all the breast tissue and you may have more x-rays taken. This will help the doctor see as much of the breast tissue as possible.

It is useful to let the screening unit staff know that you have implants before your mammogram.


Screening for women at higher risk

You can have screening from a younger age if you have a higher than average risk of breast cancer. This might be due to a family history or an inherited faulty gene.

Speak to your GP if you think you might be at increased risk. They can refer you to a genetic specialist, who can assess your risk. Not everyone with a family history of cancer is at increased risk themselves.


Breast screening is also for some transgender or non-binary people. Talk to your GP or Gender Identity Clinic about this. Information was prepared using


Bowel screening aims to find cancer early or to find changes in your bowel that could lead to cancer.

The screening programmes send a bowel cancer testing kit every 2 years to people who can take part. You need to be registered with a GP to receive your screening invitations.


The bowel cancer screening test

The test is called FIT - Faecal Immunochemical Test. It looks for tiny traces of blood. You do the test at home. The kit contains instructions of what to do including a prepaid envelope to send the sample to the hospital.


Who can have bowel screening

In England, you receive a bowel cancer screening kit if you're aged between 60 and 74 years. Some people aged 56 are also being invited. This is because NHS England is slowly expanding this programme over the coming years. Eventually, people aged between 50 to 74 will be invited.

People aged over 74, can request a screening kit every 2 years by contacting the bowel cancer screening programme on 0800 707 6060.

You can watch a short video about how to do your bowel cancer screening test. Click here


How to do the FIT?

You don’t need to respond to your screening invitation to take part. You will automatically be sent a testing kit (about 2 weeks later). You do the test in your own home. The test is clean and simple. You only need to collect one sample of poo.

In the envelope you receive, there is:

· a detailed leaflet with instructions on how to do the test

· a tube with a stick in it to collect your sample

· prepaid specially designed (hygienic) envelope for you to send it back

Getting your results

About 2 weeks after your test, you will get a letter with your results.

Most people receive a letter that says ‘no further tests needed at this time’. This doesn’t completely rule out cancer. So it’s important to know your body and what is normal for you. See your GP practice if you have changes that don’t go away.

If your letter says ‘further tests needed’ this means that blood was found in your sample. This can be caused by other medical conditions and does not necessarily mean cancer. But if it is cancer, finding it at an early stage means treatment is more likely to work.

The screening programme may ask you to do the test again if your letter says ‘further tests needed’. Or you'll have an appointment to see a specialist nurse at a bowel cancer screening centre. The nurse will talk to you about having a camera test to look at the inside of your large bowel. This is called a colonoscopy.


Possible benefits and risks of bowel cancer screening


Possible benefits

Bowel cancer screening saves lives. It aims to prevent and detect cancer at an early stage when treatment is more likely to work.



False positive result

This means that the test picks up something even though the person doesn't have cancer. This can cause anxiety and lead to further tests.

False negative result

Rarely, screening tests miss a cancer. It is important to know the symptoms of bowel cancer and contact your GP practice if you have any symptoms.


Screening for people with higher risk

Bowel screening works well at reducing deaths from bowel cancer in people in their 50s, 60s and early 70s. As bowel cancer is rare in younger people, screening them is not useful.

Some people can have regular screening at an earlier age, if they have certain conditions that increase their risk of bowel cancer. Information was prepared using