Regular cancer screening is important. Screening can detect certain cancers before you have any symptoms. Finding cancers early means that treatment is likely to work best.
In Northern Ireland, the Public Health Agency runs screening programmes for breast, cervical and bowel cancers. The aim of screening is to detect cancer at an early stage when treatment is more likely to be effective.
Breast screening programme
All women aged 50-70 are invited to attend for a mammogram at their local breast screening unit every three years. Women over 70 are still at risk of breast cancer. Although they are not routinely invited for breast screening, they are encouraged to call their local screening unit to request breast screening every three years. Breast screening uses an X-ray test called a mammogram to check the breast for signs of cancer. It can spot cancers that are too small to see or feel.
Cervical screening programme
All women aged 25-49 are invited to attend for a cervical screening test every three years. Women aged 50-64 are invited every five years. The test (also called a smear test) looks for abnormal cells on the lining of the cervix. If these cells are not treated, they might turn into cervical cancer. The screening test can detect cancers, but it is also the best way for women to protect themselves from developing cervical cancer in the future.
Bowel cancer screening programme
All men and women aged 60-74 are offered screening every two years. This uses a home test kit to look for unseen traces of blood in the bowel motions. Blood in the stools can be a sign of bowel cancer so further tests can then be carried out. Screening can also find polyps in the bowel. These may develop into cancer later if they are not removed.
Questions about screening
If you have been invited for screening, or have been for screening and have any questions about the result, you should contact the name and address shown on your invitation letter or result letter. If you are worried about a specific problem, or otherwise worried about the risks of cancer, then you should talk to your GP.
Checking out changes
Screening is an important element in cancer detection and prevention. However, it’s still important to check yourself regularly and keep an eye out for any changes in your body.