NHS Screening: What, Why and When
The NHS isn’t just there to treat you when you are ill. It’s also there to prevent illness and keep you healthy.
One way this happens is through the NHS screening programme.
You can read through below or use the buttons to jump to the different sections.
What is Screening?
Screening is the term used to find out if someone has a high risk of developing certain serious health conditions.
It is important to say that screening is for people who are generally fit and well.
If someone has symptoms associated with any of the screened conditions, then they should see their GP and not wait to be invited to a screening.
Being invited for screening shouldn’t be anything to worry about. It is about preventing future illness.
Each screening varies, but the most common tests involve either a blood sample, ultrasound or x-ray, physical examination, or collecting a sample of cells.
Finding signs of disease early often gives the best chance of successful treatment.
An example is cervical screening. The test itself looks for signs of Human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes nearly all cases of cervical cancer.
Finding and treating cells with signs of HPV can prevent nearly all cases of cervical cancer from developing.
The conditions that the NHS screens for are all able to be detected early and can be better treated the sooner they are found.
When does screening happen?
Screening begins in pregnancy, with important tests in the first few days of our lives after birth.
Later in life, we’ll be invited to screenings at different times based on our age and bodies.
This video timeline and table below show who is screened for what and when.
|Sickle cell and thalassaemia screening||Pregnant women||First ten weeks||Blood test|
|HIV, Hepatitis B, Syphilis||Pregnant women||8th – 12th week of pregnancy||Blood test|
|Diabetic eye screening||Pregnant women with diabetes||Anytime during pregnancy||Reading letters from a chart drops put in each eye, photos taken of the back of the eyes|
|Foetal anomaly screening (11 conditions including Down’s syndrome)||Pregnant women||10th – 20th week of pregnancy||Ultrasound and blood test|
|New-born screening (eyes, heart, hips, hearing, testicles if male)||New-born babies||First 3 days||Physical examination|
|‘Heel prick test’ (9 rare but serious conditions such as cystic fibrosis)||New-born babies||Five days old||A few drops of blood taken from the baby’s heel|
|Diabetic eye screening||People with diabetes||12+||Reading letters from a chart, drops put in each eye, photos taken of the back of the eyes.|
|Cervical cancer screening||Women and people with a cervix||25 – 64||Cell sample collected from the cervix|
|Breast cancer screening||Women||50 – 70||Mammogram (x-ray)|
|Bowel cancer screening||All||60 – 74, every two years||Test at home kit|
|Abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) screening||Men||65||Abdominal ultrasound|
Soon after a screening, you will be notified of the result.
If your results are typical, then there is nothing else you need to do. Some programmes test every few years, so you’ll be invited again in the future.
An abnormal result does not mean you have that condition. It means your chances of getting it might be higher.
A clinician will discuss your results and what your options are. This may be further tests or some form of treatment.
Remember, screening is for healthy people. It looks for future signs of illness before symptoms can develop. If you do have symptoms of a condition that you could be screened for, don’t wait – arrange to see a GP.