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There are two main types of screening offered to women - breast screening and cervical screening.
You will be offered breast screening between the ages of 50 to 70 or if you have a higher than average risk of developing breast cancer (for example it is in your family history). Screening aims to find breast cancers early – it uses an x-ray test (called a mammogram) that can spot cancers that are too small to see or feel. Detecting any problems at an early stage is really important as it means that any treatment you receive is likely to be more effective.
Following your mammogram, the results will be sent to you and your GP no later than two weeks after your appointment.
Even if you are having a mammogram every 3 years, it is important to make sure that you know how your breasts normally look and feel as cancers can develop between mammograms. If you notice any unusual changes in your breasts, it is important to see your GP as soon as possible.
For more information on checking your breasts, visit the Cancer Research UK website.
The cervical screening test (formerly known as the smear test) is a way to detect abnormal cells on the cervix at an early stage – a ‘pre-cancer’ test. Cervical screening saves around 4,500 lives each year in the UK. Although you may feel nervous about going for a cervical screening, it is important in detecting any problems at an early stage. Women screened between the ages of 35 to 64 are thought to have a 60 to 80% lower risk of being diagnosed with cervical cancer in the 5 years following the test compared to women who haven’t been screened.
All women over the age of 25, registered with a GP practice, will be called for a cervical screening test:
- if you are aged 25 to 49 you will be called every 3 years
- if you are aged 50 to 64 you will be called every 5 years
- if you are over 65 you will only be called if you have not been screened since the age of 50 or if you have recently had an abnormal test.
Most women choose to have their cervical screening test performed by the nurse at their GP practice, but they may also be available at a sexual health clinic.
The results of your screening test will be sent to you in the post, a copy will also be sent to your GP, usually within 14 days of your test. And if any abnormalities are found then you would be referred directly to the colposcopy clinic for further tests or treatment if necessary.
More information about cervical screening, including what happens during the test, can be found on the NHS Choices website.
You can find out more information about cancer, including prevention, on our cancer pages.