NHS screening & early 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.
NHS cancer screening programmes can help to diagnose cancer or risk of cancer earlier and improve the likelihood of successful treatment. There are three national cancer screening programmes in England.
Everyone aged 60 to 74 is offered a bowel cancer screening home test kit every 2 years.
Symptoms of bowel cancer
The 3 main symptoms of bowel cancer are:
- persistent blood in your poo – that happens for no obvious reason or is associated with a change in bowel habit
- a persistent change in your bowel habit – which is usually having to poo more and your poo may also become more runny
- persistent lower abdominal (tummy) pain, bloating or discomfort – that's always caused by eating and may be associated with loss of appetite or significant unintentional weight loss
When to get medical advice
See a GP If you have any of the symptoms of bowel cancer for 3 weeks or more.
The GP may decide to:
- examine your tummy and bottom to make sure you have no lumps
- arrange for a simple blood test to check for iron deficiency anaemia – this can show whether there's any bleeding from your bowel that you have not been aware of
- arrange for you to have a simple test in hospital to make sure there's no serious cause of your symptoms
Bowel cancer screening
To detect cases of bowel cancer sooner, everyone aged 60 to 74 who is registered with a GP and lives in England is automatically sent a bowel cancer screening home test kit every 2 years.
If you're 75 or over, you can ask for a kit every 2 years by phoning the free bowel cancer screening helpline on 0800 707 60 60.
The programme also includes 56 year olds.
For the screening test, you use a home test kit to collect a small sample of poo and send it to a lab. This is checked for tiny amounts of blood.
Blood can be a sign of polyps or bowel cancer. Polyps are growths in the bowel that may turn into cancer over time.
Read about bowel cancer 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.
Symptoms of breast cancer
Breast cancer can have several symptoms, but the first noticeable symptom is usually a lump or area of thickened breast tissue.
Most breast lumps are not cancerous, but it's always best to have them checked by a doctor.
You should also see a GP if you notice any of these symptoms:
- a change in the size or shape of one or both breasts
- discharge from either of your nipples, which may be streaked with blood
- a lump or swelling in either of your armpits
- dimpling on the skin of your breasts
- a rash on or around your nipple
- a change in the appearance of your nipple, such as becoming sunken into your breast
Breast pain is not usually a symptom of breast cancer.
Find out more about the symptoms of breast cancer.
Breast cancer screening
However, you should be aware that a mammogram might fail to detect some breast cancers.
It might also increase your chances of having extra tests and interventions, including surgery, even if you're not affected by breast cancer.
Women with a higher-than-average risk of developing breast cancer may be offered screening and genetic testing for the condition.
As the risk of breast cancer increases with age, all women who are 50 to 70 years old are invited for breast cancer screening every 3 years.
Women over the age of 70 are also entitled to screening and can arrange an appointment through their GP or local screening unit.
The NHS is in the process of extending the programme as a trial, offering screening to some women aged 47 to 73.
Find out more about breast cancer 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 3 years for those aged 25 to 49, and every 5 years from the ages of 50 to 64.
Symptoms of cervical cancer
Symptoms of cervical cancer include:
- vaginal bleeding that's unusual for you – including bleeding during or after sex, between your periods or after the menopause, or having heavier periods than usual
- changes to your vaginal discharge
- pain during sex
- pain in your lower back, between your hip bones (pelvis), or in your lower tummy
If you have another condition like fibroids or endometriosis, you may get symptoms like these regularly.
You might find you get used to them. But it's important to be checked by a GP if your symptoms change, get worse, or do not feel normal for you.
How cervical screening helps prevent cancer
Cervical screening checks a sample of cells from your cervix for certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV).
These types of HPV can cause abnormal changes to the cells in your cervix and are called "high risk" types of HPV.
If these types of HPV are found during screening (an HPV positive result), the sample of cells is then checked for abnormal changes. If abnormal cells are not treated, they may turn into cervical cancer.
Cervical screening is a choice
It's your choice if you want to go for cervical screening. But cervical screening is one of the best ways to protect you from cervical cancer.
For more information to help you decide, read the NHS cervical screening leaflet.
Cancer Support Services
There is a wide range of cancer support services and groups around.