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What is screening?

The NHS has a comprehensive screening plan designed to identify if you are at higher risk of developing several health problems.

Risk factors can exist without symptoms, so screening targets otherwise healthy people. Screening means increased risk can be identified and treated early, reducing the chance of the conditions developing.


When does it happen?

The NHS will invite you to make screening appointments at various stages of your life. At different ages, we are more susceptible to developing certain conditions, and that is where the screening programme focuses.

Take a look at the NHS screening timeline below or watch this short video.


Screening timeline

Screening in pregnancy

  • Sick cell and thalassaemia (ideally by 10 weeks)
  • Infectious diseases (HIV, hepatitis B and syphilis)
  • Down’s syndrome, Edwards syndrome and Patau’s syndrome
  • 11 physical conditions in the baby (20-week scan)
  • Diabetic retinopathy (for women with diabetes)

Newborn screening

  • newborn hearing
  • physical examination (for problems with eyes.
  • hearts, hips and testes) within 3 days of birth
  • and again at 6 to 8 weeks of age
  • newborn blood spot (for 9 rare conditions)

Diabetic eye screening

  • Offered annually to people with diabetes aged 12 and over.

Cervical screening

  • Offered to women aged from 25 to 49 every 3 years, 
  • Offered women aged from 50 to 64 every 5 years.

Breast screening

  • Offered routinely to women aged from 50 up to their 71st birthday.
  • Older women can self-refer.

Bowel cancer screening

  • Offered to men and women aged 60 to 74 every 2 years. 
  • Those aged 75 or over can request screening by calling 0800 7076060.
  • In some areas of the country people aged 55 are also invited for a one-off bowel scope screening test. You can check by calling the number above.

Abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) screening

  • Offered to men during the year they turn 65. 
  • Older men can self-refer.

More on the NHS screening programme can be found here.


Why is it important?

As an example, every year, around 3,200 women in the UK are diagnosed with cervical cancer. Yet, research shows that 99.8% of those cases could have been prevented from developing with regular screening.

In the last decade, cases of cervical cancer have begun to increase. Around 3 in 10 women don’t attend regular screenings when invited.

From the age of 25, women or people with a cervix will be invited to be screened every three years, changing to every five years from 50.

More information on the cervical screening programme and what to expect at your appointment can be found on the NHS website.