Cancer Screening

Screening involves testing apparently healthy people for signs of disease. It can save lives through detecting cancer at an early stage, or even preventing it. Currently in the UK there are national screening programmes for breast, bowel and cervical cancer.

Effective population-based screening programmes need a high level of sensitivity - the ability to correctly identify a change. They also need specificity - the ability to correctly identify people who do not have a change.

Screening has harms as well as benefits and it’s important that primary healthcare professionals are able to help patients make informed decisions and choose whether screening is right for them.

Those who may require additional support in accessing information about screening participation:

  • Vulnerable groups, including people with learning disabilities
  • People with physical disabilities
  • People with sensory impairments
  • Younger relatives and carers
  • People who do not read/write English

Learn more about cancer screening programmes, Cancer Research UK.

For further information on screening programmes, see the Cancer Research UK Screening Webpages: Understanding Cancer Screening and the UK Government: Screening Programmes Webpages.

Devolved Nations


Cancer Specific Screening Guidance


The NHS Breast Screening programme invites all women between 50 and 70 years for screening every 3 years. In some parts of England, PHE has been trialling inviting women aged 47 to 73 years old.



The NHS Bowel Cancer Screening programme offers home screening kits every two years to all men and women aged 60 to 74, and NHS Scotland offers these from age 50. In England men and women aged 55 are also invited for a one off bowel scope screening test.




The NHS cervical screening programme invites women from ages 25 to 64 for cervical screening. Women aged 25 to 49 are invited every 3 years. After that, women are invited every 5 years until the age of 64.



Balancing Benefits and Risks of Screening

Prostate Cancer

There is not currently a national screening programme for prostate cancer, however men over 50 can request a test. It is important that they make an informed decision on requesting a test, and this infographic can help.


Understanding and Accessing Screening