Cancer and Screening

Cancer is a condition where cells in a specific part of the body grow and reproduce uncontrollably. The cancerous cells can invade and destroy surrounding healthy tissue, including organs.

One in two people will develop some form of cancer during their lifetime. In the UK, the Four most common types of cancer are:

You can read more about cancer, including reducing your risk of cancer on the NHS website.


Spotting signs of cancer

Changes to your body's normal processes or unusual, unexplained symptoms can sometimes be an early sign of cancer. But in many cases your symptoms will not be related to cancer and will be caused by other, non-cancerous health conditions.

Symptoms that need to be checked by a doctor include:

  • a lump that suddenly appears on your body
  • unexplained bleeding
  • changes to your bowel or bladder habits
  • a persistent, long-lasting cough

Read more about the signs and symptoms of cancer.


Cancer 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.

Types of screening offered by the NHS in England

The NHS screening programmes currently offered in England are listed below. For more detailed information on each type of screening, follow the links. You can also watch animations about NHS screening:

Cervical screening

Cervical screening is offered to all women and people with a cervix aged 25 to 64 to check the health of cells in the cervix. It is offered every three years for those aged 25 to 49 and every four years from the ages of 50 to 64.

Breast screening

Breast screening is offered to women aged 50 to 70 to detect early signs of breast cancer. Women over 70 can self-refer.

Bowel cancer screening

Everyone aged 60 to 74 is offered a bowel cancer screening home test kit every two years.

If you're 75 or over, you can ask for a kit every two years by phoning the free bowel cancer screening helpline on 0800 707 60 60.

Other screening programmes

Abdominal aortic aneurysm screening is a way of checking if there is a bulge or swelling in the aorta, the main blood vessel that runs from you heart down to your tummy. It can be serious if its not spotted early because it could get bigger and eventually burst (rupture). 

Abdominal aortic aneurysm screening is offered to men during the screening year (1 April to 31 March) that they turn 65 to detect abdominal aortic aneurysms. Men over 65 can self-refer.

Women aged 70 or over, who have underlying risk actors such as high blood pressure, may also be advised to attend screening for abdominal aortic aneurysm.

Benefits, risks and limitations of screening


  • Screening can detect a problem early, before you have any symptoms
  • Finding out about a problem early can mean that treatment is more effective
  • Finding out you have a health problem or an increased chance of a health problem can help people make better informed decisions about their health
  • Screening can reduce the chance of developing a condition or its complications
  • Some deaths from abdominal aortic aneurysms, bowel cancer, breast cancer and cervical cancer can be prevented

Risks and limitations

Screening is a personal choice and you should read the necessary information given before you go for a screening test so that you are fully aware of the associated risks and benefits.

Screening tests are not always 100% accurate and finding out you may have a health problem can cause anxiety. There is also a small risk that some screening tests can cause physical harm. So it is important that both the benefits and harms of a screening test are assessed. You can talk to your GP to discuss the benefits and risks of screening tests that  you are eligible for.

Female screening

Cancer type Age Group Frequency



Invite every three years



Invite by letter every three years



every 5 years



Test kit sent every two years

If 75 or over, you can request a test kit by calling 0800 707 60

Male screening

Screening type Age Group Frequency

Bowel Cancer


Test kit sent every two years

If 75 or over, you can request a test kit by calling 0800 707 60 60

AAA (Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm)


During screening year (1 April to 31 March) that you turn 65. Men over 65 can self-refer

Men are invited within 1 year of turning 65. Men over 65 can also self-refer

If you are experiencing symptoms or have concerns please speak with your GP who will provide you with support and advice.