Screening is a difficult concept which sounds simple and very attractive; looking for signs of disease or better, pre-disease, in defined populations of people that when picked up can be dealt with at an early stage, saving complications or preventing death. To have an effective screening programme a number of strict criteria must be met. There are in fact very few conditions that will meet these criteria at present - there may be no reliable and acceptable tests available or the condition may be too rare to be cost effective to look for or even finding early cases may not alter the course of the illness etc. There are many private services advertised as screening. Many of these are not really screening in the proper sense and many are a waste of time, the information found being of no value.
The NHS runs several National Screening Programmes.
There are three Cancer Screening programmes:
It is recommended that all women have regular cervical smears - even those who have never been sexually active can very rarely develop cervical cancer. The national screening intervals is for smears to be performed every 3 years between the ages of 25 and 49 years, then every 5 years from age 50 - 64yrs. Those aged 65+ should have a smear only if not having been screened since age 50 or have had recent abnormal tests. Cervical screening under 25 years is less reliable and cancer is very rare in that younger age group. If you are worried, however, please talk to your GP or practice nurse. For your smear please book an appointment with a practice nurse. The national computer recall system will call you up every 3-5 years as a reminder but you don't need to wait if you are due.
For full information about the National Cervical Screening Programme click here.
All women between the ages of 50 and 64 yrs, extending over the next few years to 47 to 70 yrs, are entitled to attend free screening for breast cancer every three years. Your first automatic invitation will take place any time between the ages of 50 and 53. Screening takes place at the North of London Breast Screening Service, The Gatehouse, Edgware Community Hospital. Women aged 64 or over can make their own appointment by telephone: 0208 951 4045.
For full details about the National Breast Screening Programme click here.
Colon (Bowel) Cancer Screening
The NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme offers screening every two years to all men and women aged 60 to 69. People over 70 can request a screening kit by calling the freephone helpline 0800 707 6060
For full details about Bowel Cancer screening click here
There is no good, reliable test currently available, though one should come through in the next few years - the PSA blood test used currently is not specific or accurate enough (you get a significant number of false positive or negative results). If you have symptoms of prostate enlargement (difficulty starting to urinate, dribbling at the end, poor stream, getting up several times at night) or are worried about the possibility of prostate cancer check this information or speak to your doctor.