Cancer Screening And Early Detection

  • Alina Tariq Master's degree, Biotechnology and Bioengineering, University of Ken
  • Dr. Priyanka Thakur Bachelor in Medicine, Bachelor in Surgery (MBBS), DRPGMC, India
  • Zayan Siddiqui BSc in Chemistry with Biomedicine, KCL, MSc in Drug Discovery and Pharma Management, UCL

Get health & wellness advice into your inbox

Your privacy is important to us. Any information you provide to us via this website may be placed by us on servers. If you do not agree to these placements, please do not provide the information.

Best Milk Alternative

The word cancer can be daunting in itself but undergoing cancer screening and early detection can help you detect cancer sooner and may even give you the best chance for a successful treatment. 


Introduction to cancer

Cancer is a disease where abnormal cells in our body grow uncontrollably, these cells can multiply and form tumours (a collection of abnormal cells) due to various internal/external signals or mutations, triggered by either random chance or external circumstances (i.e., smoking increases the risk of certain cancers) or you may have a higher genetic susceptibility for certain mutations. 

Importance of spotting cancer early

Spotting cancer at an early stage means getting a diagnosis of cancer before the tumour is large or has time to spread (metastasised), this usually means the cancer is in stage one. Stage two is followed, which means that the tumour has grown but has not yet spread to other organs; following stage two is stage three. Stage three is where the cancer is larger and may have spread to the surrounding tissues and/or to the lymph nodes. Finally, stage four refers to the metastasis of cancer, where the cancer has spread from where it started to at least one other organ. 

When cancer is detected at its earliest stages, the treatment rate is more effective and the survival rates drastically improve. For example, according to Cancer Research UK, if lung cancer is diagnosed at the earliest stage, around six in 10 people survive their lung cancer diagnosis by five years or more, compared to less than one in 10 who are diagnosed at the latest stage. Similarly, for bowel cancer, if diagnosed at the earliest stage, more than nine in 10 individuals survive their cancer for five years or more compared to one in 10 when diagnosed at the latest stage. However, approximately 50% of cancers are detected at advanced stages.1 Thus, it is vital to spot cancers sooner to improve treatment efficacy and survival rates. To detect cancer sooner, the NHS introduced cancer screening programmes, which allow healthcare professionals to diagnose cancer (or detect the risk of cancer earlier). 

NHS screenings for cancers


Screening refers to completing simple tests on healthy populations to identify if these individuals have cancer or are at risk of certain cancers. In England, there are three national cancer screening programmes: cervical screening, breast screening and bowel screening. Undergoing these screening tests may help detect cancer sooner (perhaps before you show any symptoms) and improve the likelihood of successful treatments. A review of the report published in October 2019 states that these screening programmes saved around 10,000 lives a year through prevention and early diagnosis. Further showing the importance of screening programmes for the detection of cancer. 

Cervical screening

The NHS cervical screening is offered for people with cervixes (including some transgender and nonbinary people), aged between 25-64 years of age. Cervical screening is offered every three years leading up to 49 years and every five years from 50-64 years. During the screening appointment, a small sample of your cells is taken from your cervix (via a soft brush) and is checked for certain types of Human Papillomavirus (HPV). the HPV virus causes nearly all cervical cancers as these certain HPVs can cause changes to the cells in your cervix- possibly resulting in cervical cancers.2 Cervical screening allows the detection of these oncogenic (cancer-causing) strains of HPVs, thereby allowing intervention sooner. In fact, undergoing cervical cancer screening every five years significantly decreases your chances of dying from cervical cancer by more than 85%.2 

Breast screening

In the UK, one in seven people assigned female at birth (AFAB) are diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, however, if detected early, treatment is more successful with a good chance of recovery. Breast screening is offered to those AFAB (including some transgender men, people AFAB and non-binary individuals) aged 50-71 in England, however, if you have a high susceptibility to breast cancer (i.e. if breast cancer runs in your family history), you may be eligible for the screening before the age of 50. 

Breast cancer screening allows for the detection of breast cancer earlier by picking up possible changes in the breast tissues. The screening entails taking an x-ray image (mammogram) of your breast to detect any abnormalities in the cells/ tissues and is read by radiographers/ healthcare professionals. Recently, research has been looking to implement the use of AI (artificial intelligence) screen reading to improve the early detection of breast cancers and has already been shown to improve early detection of breast cancer with minimal or no unnecessary recalls.3 

Bowel screening

Bowel cancer is the third most common type of cancer but survival for bowel cancer has more than doubled in the past 40 years in the UK, where if diagnosed early, more than 90% of cancer cases result in successful treatment. In the UK, the NHS has a screening programme, which allows individuals between the ages of 60-74 to test to see if they show early signs of cancer. The programme is also expanding to make the screening available for everyone aged between 50 and 59 years. 

The screening for bowel cancer is simple and can be completed at home. The screening involves a test kit, called the faecal immunohistochemical test (FIT), where individuals collect a small sample of faeces (poo) and are sent to a lab to be tested for blood. The presence of blood in your faeces can be a sign of polyps or bowel cancer. Polyps are small growths in the linen of the large intestine (colon) or the rectum, and while polyps are common and not usually serious, they can result in bowel cancers. The blood can be picked up from the FIT test and further tests or interventions are introduced- this is rare, about 2 in 100 people are asked for further tests (i.e., colonoscopy). 

Challenge of screening 

A challenge for screening is that you may get a false positive. A false positive result is when a healthcare professional sees an abnormality (i.e., sees a positive result) when no cancer is present. For example, during a FIT test, a sample of faeces is sent to the lab to be tested for blood, however, if you suffer from haemorrhoids (Piles), you may find blood in your faeces. As the FIT test is dependent upon finding blood in the sample, it may result in a false positive result. Another way in which you may experience a false negative is via receiving a false positive due to a mammogram screen for breast cancer. This is because a radiographer reads a mammogram and can flag an abnormality when no cancer is actually present- due to human error. However, with an abnormal test (i.e., with FIT test or a mammogram) further tests are completed to confirm a cancer diagnosis. In fact, recent studies are looking to implement the use of AI screen reading to improve the early detection of breast cancers and have already been shown to improve early detection of breast cancer with minimal or no unnecessary recalls.3 Thus, the use of AI may further prevent false positives from taking place. 

Having a false positive can be scary and can impact your mental and social health in the short term, however, a study has shown that false-positive results do not have an impact on your health in the long term.4 In fact, those AFAB who had received a false-positive mammography result were more likely to be up-to-date with their breast cancer screening later. 5 Thus, showing that despite the short-term negative impact of receiving a false-positive result from a screen, the benefits of screening and diagnosis of cancer outweigh the short-term psychosocial consequences. 

The screening process

The screening process is simple, if you are registered to a GP, you will be automatically invited for a screening. The screening which you are invited for is dependent upon how your sex is recorded in the GP’s system, for example, for transgender and non-binary individuals, your hormones and/or surgeries you have undergone will have an impact on the screenings you are invited for. If you believe you should have a screening invitation but haven’t received one, contact your GP surgery- even if you have lost your invitation letter or missed your screening. 

A screening or test kit also contains information about the screening in more detail, this allows you to make an informed decision about the screening and whether it is right for you. You will either attend the appointment (cervical and breast screens) or will be provided with a FIT test (bowel screen) via mail. The at-home bowel screening test kit (FIT screen) will also come with a prepaid hygienic envelope to allow you to send your sample. You should receive your results within a few weeks. 


The three national cancer screening programmes: cervical screening, breast screening and bowel screening, allow intervention to be received before the cancer becomes metastasised or difficult to treat. Between 2021 and 2022, over 100,000 patients in the UK were diagnosed with cancer at its early stages (Stages 1 and 2). In fact, in the last 50 years, cancer survival in the UK has doubled, this could be due to early detection, diagnosis and interventions, as well as gaining a better understanding of cancer and its impact on overall health. As more research is being completed on cancer, better detection methods can be implemented in healthcare, which may reduce the chances of false positives (i.e., the use of AI in cancer screening).


  1. Crosby D, Bhatia S, Brindle KM, Coussens LM, Dive C, Emberton M, et al. Early detection of cancer. Science [Internet]. 2022 Mar 18 [cited 2024 Apr 16];375(6586):eaay9040. Available from:
  2. Humans IWG on the E of CR to. Human papillomavirus (Hpv) infection. In: Human Papillomaviruses [Internet]. International Agency for Research on Cancer; 2007 [cited 2024 Apr 17]. Available from:
  3. Ng AY, Oberije CJG, Ambrózay É, Szabó E, Serfőző O, Karpati E, et al. Prospective implementation of AI-assisted screen reading to improve early detection of breast cancer. Nat Med. 2023 Dec;29(12):3044–9.
  4. Rasmussen JF, Siersma V, Malmqvist J, Brodersen J. Psychosocial consequences of false positives in the Danish Lung Cancer CT Screening Trial: a nested matched cohort study. BMJ Open [Internet]. 2020 Jun 1 [cited 2024 Apr 24];10(6):e034682. Available from:
  5. Taksler GB, Keating NL, Rothberg MB. Implications of false-positives for future cancer screenings. Cancer [Internet]. 2018 Jun 1 [cited 2024 Apr 24];124(11):2390–8. Available from:

Get health & wellness advice into your inbox

Your privacy is important to us. Any information you provide to us via this website may be placed by us on servers. If you do not agree to these placements, please do not provide the information.

Best Milk Alternative
[optin-monster-inline slug="yw0fgpzdy6fjeb0bbekx"]
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

Get our health newsletter

Get daily health and wellness advice from our medical team.
Your privacy is important to us. Any information you provide to this website may be placed by us on our servers. If you do not agree do not provide the information.

Alina Tariq

Master's degree, Biotechnology and Bioengineering, University of Kent

Alina is a Master's graduate in Biotechnology and Bioengineering with a background in Medical Biology. Her speciality lies in chemotherapeutic resistance to cancers , igniting her passion for harnessing biotechnology to combat cancer. She is a passionate advocate of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion- especially in healthcare, with a certification in GCP. Alina is confident in her ability to contribute to projects that require scientific expertise and effective communication strategies in order to bring positive changes to the healthcare industry. presents all health information in line with our terms and conditions. It is essential to understand that the medical information available on our platform is not intended to substitute the relationship between a patient and their physician or doctor, as well as any medical guidance they offer. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making any decisions based on the information found on our website.
Klarity is a citizen-centric health data management platform that enables citizens to securely access, control and share their own health data. Klarity Health Library aims to provide clear and evidence-based health and wellness related informative articles. 
Klarity / Managed Self Ltd
Alum House
5 Alum Chine Road
Westbourne Bournemouth BH4 8DT
VAT Number: 362 5758 74
Company Number: 10696687

Phone Number:

 +44 20 3239 9818