Breast, Bowel and Cervical Cancer

Breast screening

Screening aims to find breast cancers early, when they have the best chance of being cured.

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 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.

Overall, the breast screening programme finds cancer in about 8 out of every 1,000 women having screening.

Who has breast screening?

Each year more than 2 million women have breast cancer screening in the UK. The NHS Breast Screening Programme invites all women aged between 50 and 70 for screening every 3 years. You need to be registered with a GP to receive the invitations.

In some parts of England, the screening programme has been inviting women from 47 to 73 years old as part of a trial.

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, talk to your GP or your local breast screening unit.

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.

Breast screening is also for some trans or non-binary people. Talk to your GP or Gender Identity Clinic about this.

 

Bowel cancer screening

Screening is a way of testing healthy people to see if they show any early signs of cancer.

Bowel cancer screening can save lives. Screening aims to detect bowel cancer at an early stage, when treatment has the best chance of working. The test can also find polyps (non-cancerous growths), which might develop into cancer. Polyps can usually be removed, to lower the risk of bowel cancer.

What is bowel cancer screening?

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland people over the age of 60 are invited to take part in bowel cancer screening. In Scotland, screening starts from age 50. You will be invited to take part in screening every two years until you reach the age of 75.

Each of the screening programmes in the UK use home tests, which look for hidden blood in poo. If you are registered with a GP and within the eligible screening age range, a test will be automatically posted to you, so you can complete it in the privacy of your own home.

Bowel Cancer UK do not provide bowel cancer screening test kits or accept completed kits.

Which bowel screening tests are used in the UK?

There are currently three different bowel screening tests used as part of bowel screening programmes in the UK. The test you receive will vary depending on which country you live in.

 

What is cervical screening?

Cervical screening is one of the best ways to protect yourself from cervical cancer.

Cervical screening checks the health of your cervix. It’s not a test for cancer, it’s a test to help prevent cancer.

How cervical screening helps prevent cancer

Cervical screening may check for:

  • abnormal cell changes in your cervix – left untreated, this could turn into cancer
  • human papillomavirus (HPV) – some types of HPV can lead to cell changes in your cervix and cancer

What is HPV?

HPV is the name for a very common group of viruses.

You can get it from any kind of skin-to-skin contact of the genital area, not just from penetrative sex.

Most people will get some type of HPV during their lives.

Nearly all cervical cancers are caused by infection with certain types of HPV.

Important

Finding cell changes early means they can be monitored or treated.

This means they do not get a chance to turn into cervical cancer.

Who’s at risk of cervical cancer

If you have a cervix and have had any kind of sexual contact, with a man or a woman, you could get cervical cancer.

You’re still at risk of cervical cancer if:

  • you have had the HPV vaccine – it does not protect you from all types of HPV, so you’re still at risk of cervical cancer
  • you have only had 1 sexual partner – you can get HPV the first time you’re sexually active
  • you have had the same partner, or not had sex, for a long time – you can have HPV for a long time without knowing it
  • you’re a lesbian or bisexual – you’re at risk if you have had any sexual contact
  • you’re a trans man with a cervix – read about if trans men should have cervical screening
  • you have had a partial hysterectomy that did not remove all of your cervix

Find out if you need cervical screening if you’re a virgin

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.

Risks of cervical screening

You may have some light bleeding or spotting after cervical screening. This should stop within a few hours.

If abnormal cells are found and you need treatment, there are some risks, such as:

  • treating cells that may have gone back to normal on their own
  • bleeding or an infection
  • you may be more likely to have a baby early if you get pregnant in the future – but this is rare