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Cancer screening checks – are you up to date?

April 5, 2024
Cancer screening checks – are you up to date?
April 5, 2024

With two members of the Royal family being treated for cancer, it’s no wonder the online search for signs, symptoms and treatment for the disease has increased. Which is good news, says ZoomDoc GP, Dr Michael Prudden

‘The more aware we all are about early warning signs of cancer and the sooner we get anything unusual or concerning checked out by a doctor or specialist, the better,’ he says.

As well as taking our own responsibility for our health – knowing our bodies, checking for lumps and knowing what’s unusual for us – we’re also fortunate enough in the UK to have three NHS screening checks in place. The idea of these is to test seemingly healthy people, in age brackets where your risk increases, for signs of cancer. 

According to Cancer Research UK, these tests ‘save lives by finding cancers at an early stage, or even preventing them.’ Yet millions of people are missing or putting off these life-saving checks. 

Latest NHS figures show that over a third (65%) of women invited for breast screenings (more on this below) did not attend their appointment. Although this was a slight increase from the previous year, it still means around 1 million women did not take up the invitation to get checked. 

Dr Louise Wilkinson, Consultant Radiologist and National Specialist Advisor for Breast Screening at NHS England, puts this into perspective: 

‘Around 1 in 7 women are diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime, and detecting it at an early stage helps give people the best chance of successful treatment. [These] figures show that 18,942 women were diagnosed and able to seek treatment because they attended breast screening check-ups last year,’ she says.

Breast screening checks aren’t the only missed appointments. Recent Gov.uk figures also show that a third of women invited for annual cervical screening did not attend, with ‘embarrassment’ listed as the main reason.

Whatever your reason for not attending screening checks when they are due, experts are urging people to prioritise them.

‘We know that lives are saved when cancers are caught early. I know life gets busy, but I would urge anyone who has received a screening invitation – even if you received the invite weeks or months ago – to put your health at the top of your to-do list and book an appointment at your local screening service or mobile unit. It could save your life,’ says Dr Louise Wilkinson.

Here’s which screening checks to have on your radar.

Breast screening


NHS breast screening uses X-rays, called mammograms, to look for cancers that are too small to see or feel.


Who’s eligible: All women between 50-70 who are registered with an NHS GP will be invited for breast screening every three years. You may not have your first one until you are in your early 50s. Some trans and non-binary people will also be eligible.


What it involves: You’ll have a mammogram, which is a special x-ray of your breasts that can help show early signs of breast cancer when lumps may be too small to feel or notice yourself. This test will not prevent you getting breast cancer but it will find it early when your chance of treating it is high. Having a mammogram is not painful or invasive, just a little uncomfortable for a short time. You will get your results by letter within 2-3 weeks.

Due for yours? Contact your GP to book it in as soon as possible.

Cervical screening


Cervical screening (a smear test) is a test to check the health of the cervix and help prevent cervical cancer.


Who’s eligible: All women between 25-50  are invited for cervical screening, also known as a smear test, every three years. All women aged 50-64 will have theirs every five years. Trans men and non-binary people assigned female at birth (with a cervix) will also be invited.

What it involves: Although this is an invasive test, it is the best way to look for precancerous HPV cells in your cervix. Your nurse will ask you to undress from the waist down, put your feet together and keep your knees apart while she gently inserts a tool called a speculum. She’ll quickly use a brush to collect cells from your cervix, which will be sent off for investigation. It should only take a few minutes and although uncomfortable, it is not painful.

Book your smear test via your GP.

Read more about why you should book your cervical screening

Bowel screening


People aged 54 will now automatically receive a home FIT test kit every two years by post when they become eligible.


Who’s eligible: At the moment anyone aged between 60-74 years who is registered with a GP and lives in England will be sent an NHS bowel cancer screening kit every 2 years. This is gradually being expanded and rolled out to over 50s.

What it involves: This is an at-home test that uses a DIY screening kit called the FIT kit (faecal immunochemical test kit). It comes with instructions but requires you to collect a small poo sample that gets sent off to a lab for testing.

Here are 6 great reasons to test your poo

Get your FIT kit here: ZoomDoc provides a Bowel Cancer Screening FIT kit for £79.

This test looks for small amounts of blood in stool which may indicate bowel cancer or other benign conditions like piles (haemorrhoids). You’ll receive the kit, full instructions and once you’ve sent it to be lab-tested, you will be emailed your results plus analysis and health advice by a ZoomDoc GP.

What about prostate screening?


If you’re aged 50 or over and decide to have your PSA levels tested after talking to a GP, they can arrange for it to be carried out free on the NHS.


There is no currently no screening programme for prostate cancer in the UK because the PSA test – that measures the level of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) in your blood – is not always accurate.

ZoomDoc offers a finger-prick PSA test (£49) that detects raised PSA levels either due to prostate cancer or non-cancerous enlargement or inflammation of the prostate. It recommends its at-home PSA test if:

  • you are over the age of 50
  • you have a strong family history of prostate cancer
  • you are experiencing symptoms related to prostate cancer

Buy your PSA test here

If you have any concerns about prostate cancer, you should always talk to your doctor or regular GP.

How King Charles has raised awareness of common prostate condition

If you’re worried about any unusual symptoms and want to talk to a doctor today, download the ZoomDoc app and make an appointment with a GP from the comfort of your own home.

Want to know more?

Our team of Doctors are available via the ZoomDoc App for any medical questions or queries.