Decorative image

Cancer screening and coronavirus (COVID-19)

Cervical, breast and bowel cancer screening programmes are going ahead in the UK. But because of COVID-19, there are delays to some invitations and follow-up appointments.

The NHS has had to make difficult decisions. Screening was delayed last year to protect people from COVID-19. NHS staff who run screening programmes were also needed to support critical services.

Screening programmes have resumed. But there are now a lot of people waiting for screening tests and appointments. The NHS will try to reach everyone as soon as possible.

It’s important to remember that screening is for healthy people with no symptoms. If you notice any unusual changes to your body that don’t go away, talk to your doctor. In most cases it won’t be cancer, but it’s best to get it checked out.

Is it safe to attend my screening appointment?

Staff will be following strict guidance on infection control. This is to protect you and themselves. They will wear extra protective clothing and might ask you to wear a mask and gloves. You also won’t be able to take someone with you to your appointment.

Talk to your doctor or the screening service about what to expect or any concerns you might have.

If you have symptoms of COVID-19 or are self-isolating, do not attend your appointment. Talk to your doctor or the screening service to rearrange it.

Your results might be delayed. Ask at your appointment how long they might take and who to contact if you haven’t heard in that time.

You can do bowel cancer screening at home when you receive the testing kit. So you don’t need to attend an appointment to take part. Some screening appointments and most follow-up appointments will take place at a hospital.

I have an abnormal screening result, but my follow-up appointment has been delayed

You may have received an abnormal result from your screening test or told you need further tests. But your follow-up appointment may be delayed. This is to make sure staff are able to see people most in need.

Screening programmes will make sure that they offer everyone with an abnormal result a follow-up appointment.

You may feel quite worried about your result and that is completely normal. Most people who get an abnormal screening result don’t have cancer. But it’s still important you go to your follow-up appointment when it's rearranged. 

In the meantime, if you notice anything that’s not normal for you contact your doctor. Don’t ignore it, or put it down to getting older or another health condition you might have. In most cases, it won’t be cancer, but it’s best to get it checked out.

If you have questions, contact your doctor or call the phone number listed on your NHS letter. You can also phone the Cancer Research UK nurses if you would like to talk to someone at this worrying time.

Talk to the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040, from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday

My screening test has been delayed

Cervical, breast and bowel cancer screening tests have resumed in the UK. But you may have to wait a long time for an appointment, or it may take longer than usual before you get your invitation. This is because there are a lot of people waiting for screening appointments. Screening programmes need to follow-up everyone who couldn’t attend screening while it was suspended. The NHS is working hard to see everyone as soon as possible.

It may be worrying to have your test cancelled or delayed. But it’s important to remember that screening is for healthy people who have no symptoms at all.

Contact your doctor or screening service if your screening appointment was cancelled last year.

More information

Find more information about screening and about symptoms of cancer.

Last reviewed: 
12 Mar 2021
Next review due: 
12 Aug 2021