Wellbeing of Women strives to raise awareness so all women know about the checks that are available to them. These checks can be life saving and prevent serious problems.
As with all screening tests, they only check for problems at the time of the test. Whilst a negative result is always good, you still need to be vigilant. If any symptoms develop before the next screening, or before you are due for your first screening i.e. lumps, bumps, abnormal bleeding or anything concerning; go to your doctor and get checked, do not wait for the screening test.
The NHS offers a range of free screening tests and health interventions for women. At different stages of life you may be invited for various checks.
As you get older, you're more likely to develop a range of conditions that are rare in younger people such as breast and bowel cancer. Because of this, you'll be invited to have some screening tests and health checks in your middle years.
The earlier cancers and other conditions can be detected, the better the chance for a full recovery.
Cervical cancer screening
Women registered with a GP can start attending cervical screening from the age of 25.
Women are invited for screening every three years between the ages of 25 and 49, and every five years from 50 to 64.
During screening, the doctor or nurse will insert an instrument called a speculum into the vagina to hold it open, and gently use a small brush to take some cells from your cervix. The test is sometimes called a smear test.
The cells are sent to a laboratory for analysis. If any cell changes are found, you may be asked to repeat the screening test or be referred for another examination called a colposcopy. It's rare for any cell changes to have progressed into cancer.
If your screening sample is normal, you'll be invited for screening again every three years until you reach the age of 49, after which screening is offered every five years until you are 64.
Since September 2008 there has been a national programme to vaccinate girls aged 12 to 13 against the human papilloma virus (HPV).
Some types of HPV can cause cervical cancer, and the HPV vaccine is also known as the cervical cancer jab.
The vaccination programme is delivered largely through secondary schools, and consists of three injections that should be given over a period of 12 months.
Research has shown that the HPV vaccine provides effective protection for at least six years after completion of the three-dose course. It is not known how long protection will last beyond this time.
Combined with cervical screening, the HPV vaccination is an important step towards preventing cervical cancer. It is estimated that about 400 lives could be saved every year in the UK as a result of vaccinating girls before they are infected with HPV.
The Gardasil vaccine has been used since September 2012 in the national vaccination programme. A significant advantage of Gardasil is that it is highly effective against the two strains of HPV that cause around 90% of genital warts, as well as protecting against the two types of HPV responsible for more than 70% of cervical cancers in the UK.
Chlamydia is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the UK and it's especially common in under-25s. It often has no symptoms and if left untreated it can cause fertility problems for women.
The NHS National Chlamydia Screening Programme covers many parts of England. The programme offers a free chlamydia test each year to sexually women aged 25 or younger, usually at the local GP surgery.
The test can be a urine test or a swab from the cervix or urethra. Chlamydia infection can be cleared up with antibiotics and won't return unless you're re-infected by having unprotected sex.
Breast cancer screening
Under the NHS Breast Screening Programme, women registered with a GP are invited for their first mammogram (breast X-ray) between their 50th and 53rd birthday. This is gradually being changed so that by 2016 the first invitation will arrive between your 47th and 50th birthday.
Breast cancer screening aims to pick up breast cancer at an early stage when treatment is likely to be more effective.
For the mammogram, you will be asked to undress to the waist, and each breast will be X-rayed twice. You'll be looked after by female screening staff.
If an abnormality is detected on the mammogram, you'll be asked to come back for further tests. In many cases, further tests show that there's no problem.
If the mammogram is normal, you'll be invited for screening again every three years until the age of 70. This is gradually being increased to the age of 73.
If you're over the screening invitation age, you can request further screening every three years, but you won't automatically be invited.
Bowel cancer screening
Under the NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme women registered with a GP and aged between 60 and 69 are invited to take part in screening every two years (from age 70 onwards, you can request screening, but you aren't automatically invited).
Screening aims to pick up bowel cancer at an early stage when treatment is likely to be more effective.
What happens is that you'll automatically receive a faecal occult blood testing (FOBT) kit in the post. This is used to collect tiny samples from your bowel motions.
You return the test kit to a laboratory for analysis. If you have an abnormal result, you'll be invited to a local screening centre to discuss further tests.
The NHS Health Check
The NHS Health Check programme is for adults in England aged between 40 and 74 to identify the risk of developing heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and type 2 diabetes.
If you're aged between 40 and 74 you will be invited for your check at some time over the coming years.
If you’re registered with a GP, you may be invited for the check by letter, or you may be offered the check when you're at your GP or local pharmacy for another reason.
If you’re concerned about your health, don't wait until your NHS Health Check to do something about it. Go to your GP as you would normally.
Adults who have already been diagnosed with one of the four diseases won't be invited for the check, and their condition will continue to be managed as usual.
Following your first check, you'll be invited for another check every five years until you're over 74.
The check will involve a brief personal history and a review of some key personal details, such as age, ethnicity, smoking status, family history and physical activity.
In addition to this review, a health professional will carry out a few routine tests:
· Cholesterol test.
· Blood pressure test
· Body Mass Index (BMI)
· Diabetes risk assessment.
Osteoporosis is a condition that causes bones to become brittle and fragile. It's most common in women over 50, and symptoms include a tendency to fracture easily. If you show signs of early osteoporosis, a DEXA bone scan can help determine whether you have the condition or are at risk of developing it.
Page last updated February 2013