Cancer screening

Cancer screening means testing for a specific type of cancer on people who do not have any symptoms. Screening aims to catch cancer in the early stages when the chance of cure is the highest.

There are currently three cancer screening programmes:

Breast cancer

A mammogram (XRAY of the breast) can spot cancers when they are too small to see or fee. Mammograms are offered every 3 years to women who are between the ages of 50 and 70 and registered with a GP. For more information on breast cancer screening, visit the NHS breast cancer screening website and see the NHS breast screening patient information booklet, available in multiple languages.

It is very important for all women examine themselves regularly and contact their GP immediately if they notice any changes.

Bowel cancer

There are two tests that are used to screen for bowel cancer.

Stool testing

In England, everyone aged 60-74 is sent a stool testing kit every two years. This test can be done at home. A very small sample of stool is collected and then sent to laboratory for testing for blood. If there are any abnormalities in the sample, the patient will be invited to have further tests by their GP.

Examining inside of the bowel

People aged 55 and over can be invited to have a flexible sigmoidoscopy. This involves having a thin tube inserted in the bowel to look for any abnormalities and if necessary remove small samples of the bowel wall to send for further testing. This is a one-off test that GPs will do, unlike the stool sample testing.

Further information:

Cervical cancer

A cervical cancer screening test (previously known as 'smear test') is performed by the GP (or nurse) to detect abnormal cells on the cervix. It involves inserting an instrument called a speculum into the vagina and removing cells from the cervix using a soft brush.

Women registered with a GP and aged 25-49 will be invited for this test every 3 years and those aged between 50-64 are invited every 5 years. The test can be done at GP practices, family planning clinics and sexual health clinics. The results for the test can be obtained from the GP.

Trans men who still have a cervix and are still registered as female with a GP will also be invited for cervical screening. Trans men who are registered as male will need to let a GP or practice nurse know so they can organise the test. For more information, read Should trans men have cervical screening tests?

For more information on cervical screening: