Screening programmes for women – when should you be getting checked
Reviewed by our clinical team
In the UK, there are several national screening programmes offered to women. Screenings check for the early signs of serious diseases like cancer, and are different to other types of medical test as they’re given to healthy people who aren’t having any symptoms.
The type of screening you’re offered will depend on your age, but in general you don’t need to worry about organising your screenings yourself. When you need to attend one, you’ll be sent a letter by the NHS.
Cervical screening (smear)
The first screening you’ll need to attend is a smear test, which is now more commonly referred to as a cervical screening. This procedure involves an internal examination where the cervix (neck of the womb) is swabbed, so it can be checked for high-risk strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV).
HPV is the virus that causes most cases of cervical cancer. If high-risk strains are found on your cervix, you’ll need to be monitored to make sure you don’t develop cell changes that could lead to cancer.
You’ll be invited for your first cervical screening when you’re 25. Then, depending on where you live in the UK (i.e. England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland) you’ll be invited for a screening every three or five years up until the age of 64.
Once you turn 65, you shouldn’t need any more cervical screenings unless your previous screenings have had abnormal results.
Cervical screenings for trans men and non-binary people
If you have a cervix, you’ll be included in the cervical screening programme, which means you should be invited to an appointment every three to five years once you turn 25.
NHS Health Check – from the age of 40
In England, women and men over the age 40 without a pre-existing condition will be invited to an NHS Health Check every five years. Unlike most other types of screening which check for one type of cancer, the Health Check looks for risk factors and early warning signs of a variety of serious conditions:
- Kidney disease
- Heart disease
- Type 2 diabetes
You should get a letter from your GP or local council inviting you to your NHS Health Check.
Breast screening (mammogram)
Between the ages of 50 and 53 you’ll be invited to have your first breast screening, a procedure also known as a mammogram. This is to check for early breast cancer before it causes any noticeable symptoms.
During your breast screening you’ll have four X-rays taken – two for each breast. The procedure is usually done by one or two female mammographers, and takes around 30 minutes.
Across the UK, breast screenings are offered to people who are registered as female every three years until they turn 71.
Breast screenings for trans men, trans women and non-binary people
Breast screenings are offered to people based on whether they’re registered as female with their GP. If you’re registered as female, you’ll automatically be invited for a breast screening – but if you’re registered as male this won’t happen automatically so you might need to speak to your GP to arrange it.
If you’re a trans man or non-binary person assigned female at birth and you have breasts, you can get a mammogram. If you’ve had top surgery to remove your breasts, you probably won’t be able to get a mammogram so you might want to check in with your GP about how to spot early signs of cancer.
If you’re a trans woman or non-binary person assigned male at birth and you’ve been taking feminising hormones for more than two years, you should be able to have a mammogram. These hormones increase your risk of breast cancer, so it’s important to make sure you attend breast screenings – if you’re not automatically invited, speak to your GP.
In England and Northern Ireland, the screening for bowel cancer is offered to women and men between the ages of 60 and 74 every two years. In England, people who are 56 will also be included in this programme.
In Wales, the bowel screening programme includes 58 and 59-year-olds (14), while in Scotland, it includes people over the age of 50.
Unlike other types of screening and health check, a bowel screening doesn’t require a face-to-face appointment. Instead, you’ll get a home test kit in the post – you can use this kit to collect a small sample of your poo and send it to a lab for testing.
Checking in with your GP
If you haven’t been invited to a screening or scheduled health check, it’s a good idea to speak to your GP. This is especially important for trans women, trans men and non-binary people who may not automatically be offered the screenings that they need.
In between scheduled NHS screenings and health checks, you can use the LloydsPharmacy Total Health Check. This service involves a screening for type 2 diabetes, a cholesterol test, and having your blood pressure and BMI taken. You’ll also have a general conversation about family history and lifestyle to work out whether you’re high-risk for any specific diseases.