Getting older shouldn’t be a barrier to people keeping an eye on their health. In England there are four screening programmes available to people over the age of 65. For some, we automatically send invitations. For others, people can contact the relevant screening programme to ask for an appointment. It is completely up to the individual whether or not to have screening.
Abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) screening
We offer AAA screening to men in the year they turn 65. The condition is far more common in men than women. The test uses an ultrasound scan to look for a dangerous swelling (aneurysm) in the aorta. An abdominal aortic aneurysm is life-threatening if it bursts, but finding one via screening means it can be treated. AAA screening cuts the risk of death from an abdominal aortic aneurysm by about half.
The risk of breast cancer increases with age. Although postal invitations to breast screening stop at the age of 70, we encourage women to continue having screening for as long they wish. They can contact their main local breast screening unit every 3 years in order to arrange an appointment. Details of local screening units can be found via the NHS Choices website.
Bowel cancer screening
Invitations to bowel cancer screening are sent out to both men and women every two years between the ages of 60 and 74. After that, individuals can ask for screening every 2 years for as long as they wish. A programme helpline is available on 0800 707 60 60 in order to request a kit, or to get advice about bowel cancer screening. Calls are free from UK landlines and mobiles. The screening test kit looks for signs of blood in bowel motions, which can mean that there are abnormal growths in the bowel such as polyps or cancer. An abnormal test result prompts referral to discuss having a colonoscopy.
Diabetic eye screening (DES)
DES is offered once a year to both men and women who have type 1 or type 2 diabetes. The screening test looks for a condition called ‘diabetic retinopathy’. This is when diabetes causes damage to the blood vessels in part of the eye (the retina); it can lead to damage or loss of sight. Finding any damage early means it can be treated before it gets worse.
Benefits and risks of screening
It is important to remember that no screening test is 100% reliable. Screening can:
- miss finding a certain condition (a false negative result)
- seem to show a condition that isn’t actually there (a false positive result)
All screening programmes provide people with information about the pros and cons of the test on offer. It is down to individual choice whether or not to be screened. Information for the public about screening can be found on NHS Choices. People can also speak to their GP for advice or support.
Information for professionals about cancer screening programmes isn’t yet on GOV.UK – watch this blog for an announcement soon! In the meantime, information on breast screening and bowel cancer screening can be found on NHS Choices.