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. This page gives an overview of
screening, with links to some of the different types of screening offered by
the NHS in England.
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.
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.
What types of screening are offered by the NHS in England?
The NHS offers many screening programmes in England, a few are listed below.
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.
If you are a transgender (trans) man registered with your GP as female, you will be sent an invitation for cervical screening. If you are registered as male you will not receive invitations, but your GP or practice nurse can arrange an appointment for you if you have a cervix. If you are a trans woman you do not need cervical screening.
When to book cervical screening
Try to book your appointment as soon as you get invited. If you missed your last cervical screening, you do not need to wait for a letter.
It's best to book an appointment for a time when:
you're not having a period – also try to avoid the 2 days before or after you bleed (if you do not have periods, you can book any time)
you have finished treatment if you have unusual vaginal discharge or a pelvic infection
Abdominal aortic aneurysm screening
Abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) screening is a way of checking if there's a bulge or swelling in the aorta, the main blood vessel that runs from your heart down through your tummy.
This bulge or swelling is called an abdominal aortic aneurysm, or AAA. It can be serious if it's not spotted early on because it could get bigger and eventually burst (rupture).
Who's screened for AAA
In England, screening for AAA is offered to men during the year they turn 65. Men aged 65 or over are most at risk of getting AAAs. Screening can help spot a swelling in the aorta early on when it can usually be treated.
Screening for AAA is not routinely offered to:
men under 65
people who have already been treated for an AAA
This is because the risk of getting an AAA is much smaller in these groups.
If you're over 65 years old, you can ask for a scan to check for an AAA if you think you might need one but have not been offered a screening test.
How to get screened for AAA
If you're a man and registered with a GP, you'll get a screening invitation in the post when you're 64 or soon after your 65th birthday. You can then arrange an appointment that suits you.
If you're a man over 65 and have not been screened before, you can ask for a test by contacting your local AAA screening service directly.
Benefits of AAA screening
An AAA will often cause few or no obvious symptoms, but if it's left to get bigger, it could burst and cause life-threatening bleeding inside your tummy. About 8 in every 10 people who have a burst AAA die before they get to hospital or do not survive emergency surgery to repair it.
Screening can pick up an AAA before it bursts. If an AAA is found, you can choose to have regular scans to monitor it or surgery to stop it bursting. The screening test is very quick, painless and reliable. Research suggests it can halve the risk of dying from an AAA.
Bowel cancer screening
Everyone aged 60 to 74 is offered a bowel cancer screening home test kit every 2 years. This age range is gradually being extended, so if you are aged 56 or 58, you will also be invited as part of this process.
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.
You use a home test kit, called a faecal immunochemical test (FIT), 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. They are not cancer, but may turn into cancer over time.
If the test finds anything unusual, you might be asked to have further tests to confirm or rule out cancer.
Always see a GP if you have symptoms of bowel cancer at any age, even if you have recently completed a NHS bowel cancer screening test kit – do not wait to have a screening test.
You can also watch animations about NHS screening: