Making time for regular check ups with your doctor can seem like a hassle. When life gets busy, it can be easy to push aside timely check ups unless you know something is urgently wrong. Don't let yourself fall into this trap though! Take your health into your own hands, and take the proactive checks on offer from our NHS.
What is screening?
Screening tests can identify if you are at risk for a particular health condition. It will diagnose a condition before you begin to show any symptoms. Screening covers a range of health conditions - during your menopause, however, the most important screening tests are breast screening, cervical screening and bowel screening. From age 40 onwards, you'll also be offered the NHS over 40 health check which is another useful check-in.
Note that being invited for a screening test does NOT mean that you have a health condition. It's a preventative measure.
Taking up screening tests are a good way to stay on top of your health, give you peace of mind and stay informed. Even if something is wrong, these tests can help you find out earlier and the earlier you identify a problem the sooner you can take action.
Important types of screening for you:
- Breast screening
Breast screening is offered to all women in the UK between the ages 50 and 70. It is used to detect signs of early breast cancer during your menopausal transition. 1 in 8 women today are diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. Screening allows early detection. The earlier you start treatment, the greater your chances are at recovery! When you're invited for breast screening by the NHS, it's a good idea to go.
There are ways for you to do simple checks at home too - and we'd definitely encourage this too.
- Look for any changes in skin texture. This can include any signs of dimpling, rashes, any apparent lumps or even liquid secretions from your nipples. Also keep an eye out for any swelling around your armpit or chest area.
- Feel for anything unusual. This could include any bumps or unexpected and constant pain in your breast and armpit area.
- Speak to a doctor if you notice anything unusual.
2. Cervical screening
Cervical screening or, a smear test, is offered to women in the UK between the ages of 25 to 63. The test aims to identify any unusual cells in your cervix.
It is standard that you receive a letter invitation to take this test once you reach 25 years of age. Women between the age of 25-49 are invited to take a screening test every 3 years. Women between the age of 50 to 64 are invited every 5 years.
The exception to this is women who have had a total hysterectomy -removing all the womb and cervix. You will not be invited to screening.
Again, it's really sensible to always take up screening when it's offered to you. With abnormal cervical cells, if they are found early they can just be removed and any further problems avoided. We know that for women experiencing vaginal dryness, having a smear can be uncomfortable - but it's really important. You can also use low dose vaginal treatments in the short term for 2 weeks before a smear test to make it more comfortable. Don’t use the cream the night before the test though.
Typically, your results will be sent by letter as well explaining how to move forward.
3. Bowel cancer screening
There are two types of bowel cancer screening tests available at the moment:
- At home bowel screening test: for those aged over 60. It is used to identify any blood in your stool. There are two kits to choose from - the FIT test kit and the FOB test kit. Both involve taking stool samples and waiting about 2 weeks for your results. It is important to know that this test does not diagnose bowel cancer, however, it determines whether or not you need to go for further tests.
- Bowel scope screening: is a new test for those aged 55. It is done to identify and potentially remove any small growths inside your bowels. This is a rather new test, so if you are curious about it, then speak with your GP. Consider having a read of the to gather some general information about it as well!
It is important that you remember that these screening tests are not a test for cancer - they are there to help prevent cancer. Never underestimate the benefits of staying on top of your health.
4. The NHS over 40 check
Though not about cancer, this is another important health screening opportunity offered to us by the NHS. The NHS health check is about identifying whether you are at risk of certain conditions including:
- Heart Disease
- Kidney Stones
You'll also be given preventative advice on how to reduce your risk of dementia, and be offered preventative advice on all of the conditions above.
It's a good opportunity to get a few measurements and tests too. A doctor or nurse will measure your weight, height and blood pressure. Blood pressure is a really important reading to know and stay on top of, as a high blood pressure can affect a lot of aspects of your health. Many NHS surgeries are encouraging patients to self monitor blood pressure now, by buying a simple at home monitor. You'll also be offered a blood test - to assess your chances of getting heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and diabetes.
As part of the NHS health check you're also offered advice on nutrition and exercise. If you are overweight - you'll be offered support to help you manage this. And if you're a smoker, expect to be offered support to help you stop smoking.