Screening programmes

screening programmes

Cancer screening

Cancer screening involves testing apparently healthy people for signs of the disease and remains one of the most effective ways to find cancer early. It could save your life. 

However it’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of the conditions screened for, and contact your GP practice if you have concerns. 

It’s probably nothing serious but it’s best to get checked. The earlier cancer is found, the easier it is to treat.

In Scotland there are three national screening programmes

Breast screening

Cervical screening

Bowel screening

There is no screening programme for one of Scotland’s other most common cancers - prostate cancer - because there is no single reliable test. The PSA (prostate specific antigen) blood test is not reliable enough, but men over 50 can ask their doctor about it.

Benefits and risks of screening

Screening saves lives. However, no test is 100% accurate. There’s still the chance that cancers can be missed and there are other risks too.

Whether you choose to take part in screening or not is up to you but don't ignore your invite. You should read what's inside – including the benefits and risks - and then make your decision. In the meantime, you can find out more about screening on NHS Inform.

Breast Screening

Who is it for and why attend?

All women between 50 and 70 are invited for breast screening (a mammogram) every three years. You'll get a letter through the post and be invited to either your regional breast screening centre or one of the mobile units.

If you’re eligible, have not attended a screening appointment or have missed an appointment, don’t worry; all you need to do is call your regional screening centre to rearrange a time that suits you best.

Find your local screening centre

Attending breast screening is a woman’s personal choice. While most women who are invited attend their breast screening appointments, many don’t realise that it can detect tiny cancers that can't be seen or felt, often when they are less advanced. Finding these small cancers makes them much easier to treat.

Christine was diagnosed with breast cancer following a routine mammogram - her son Thomas shares their story.

What’s involved?

Breast screening involves having X-ray images taken of your breasts, this is called a mammogram. Two views of each breast will be taken to ensure all parts of the breast tissue can be examined.

For some women the process of having a mammogram can be a bit uncomfortable, but this part should only take a couple of seconds. In fact, the whole appointment takes a matter of minutes and it could save your life.

Find out what to expect at your breast screening appointment with Elaine C Smith's short video.

As well as regularly attending screening appointments it’s also important for women to continue to check their breasts for any changes. Only then do you have the best chance of being diagnosed early and surviving breast cancer. If you notice any unusual or persistent changes in your breasts visit your GP practice.

Signs and symptoms of breast cancer

Cervical Screening

Who is it for and why attend?

All women in Scotland aged 25 to 64 are invited for a routine smear test. It’s the best thing you can do to stop cervical cancer before it starts. Pre-cancerous cell changes don’t usually have any symptoms so it’s important to go, even if you’ve had the HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine. 

What’s involved?

Cervical screening checks the cells from your cervix for the human papilloma virus (HPV), which is the main cause of cervical cancer. It is the most effective and accurate way of finding out if you’re more likely to develop cervical cancer.

The test only takes five minutes and is then sent to a lab for testing. The lab sends the results to your GP who will get in touch with the result, usually within four weeks of having the test. You can find out exactly what happens at a smear test appointment, and what you can expect afterwards, in this NHS Scotland leaflet.

If you’d feel more comfortable with a female nurse or GP, be sure to mention this when you make your appointment. You could even take a friend or relative along too if you’d prefer. For more tips on making your smear test easier, follow this link.

It is so important you attend your smear test - Read Lisa’s story.

What is HPV?

Over 99% of all cervical cancers are caused by HPV (human papillomavirus). 4 out of 5 people in Scotland will have it at some point in their lives and your body will clear most infections by itself. However 1 in 10 can cause changes to the cells in the cervix, which if left untreated, could lead to cervical cancer.

You could have HPV for months or years without knowing about it. Therefore it is really important to go for your smear test and catch it early.

Signs and symptoms

As well as regularly attending your smear test, women should be aware of the signs and symptoms of cervical cancer. Only then do you have the best chance of being diagnosed early and surviving cervical cancer. If you notice any unusual or persistent changes to your health contact your GP practice.

Bowel Screening

Who is it for and why attend?

Everyone between the ages of 50 and 74 will receive a bowel screening kit through the post every two years. If you're 75 or over you can still take a test if you want to, however, you won't automatically be sent a kit, you'll need to request one by calling the Scottish Bowel Screening Helpline on 0800 0121 833.

The test is the most effective way to detect bowel cancer in its earliest stages – when it’s more treatable and can often be cured. It can spot hidden blood in your poo – which you or your GP wouldn’t know was there - which can often be a sign of bowel cancer.

Liz was diagnosed with bowel cancer after completing her bowel screening test. Watch our film below where she shares her story with Fred MacAuley. 

What’s involved?

To take the test all you have to do is put one sample of poo onto a special stick and then close the test and send it away by freepost. Further instructions on how to do the test can be found here. It’s quick and simple and could save your life. After returning the test, the Scottish Bowel Screening Centre will send you the results within two weeks. Most people will be told that they don’t need any further investigation. If this happens, you’ll be sent another test every two years until you turn 74.

If you have made a mistake or misplaced your screening test don’t worry, you can request a replacement simply by calling the Scottish Bowel Screening Helpline on 0800 0121 833.

As well as regularly participating in bowel screening, it’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer in between screenings. Only then do you have the best chance of being diagnosed early and surviving bowel cancer. If you notice any unusual or persistent changes to your health visit your GP practice.

More Information

For further information on bowel, breast and cervical screening visit NHS Inform.

Real stories

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