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Cancer screening and coronavirus (COVID-19)

The UK has three cancer screening programmes for breast, bowel and cervical cancer. Because of COVID-19, there are delays to invitations and follow-up appointments.

The NHS has had to make difficult decisions. Screening was delayed to protect people from COVID-19, and allow the NHS staff who run screening programmes to support critical services. Some screening programmes are beginning to restart, but there are now a lot of people waiting for screening 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.

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 at this time.

The teams running the screening programmes are putting measures in place to make sure that everyone with an abnormal result is followed up.

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 put something new or different about your body 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

Is it safe to attend my screening appointment?

If you have a screening appointment, staff will be following strict guidance on infection control to protect you and themselves. They might wear extra protective clothing or 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, so ask at your appointment how long it might take and who to contact if you haven’t heard in that time.

My screening appointment has been delayed

Screening appointments were cancelled because of COVID-19. Some screening programmes are now beginning to restart, but you may have to wait a long time for an appointment.

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

If your screening appointment was cancelled and you don’t hear anything, contact your doctor or the screening service.

I am due for screening, but I haven’t received an invitation.

It’s important to remember that screening is for healthy people who have no symptoms at all. Once all screening programmes are back up and running, people should start receiving invitations again. But it may take longer than usual before you are invited. This is because screening programmes need to follow-up everyone who couldn’t attend screening over the last few months. The NHS will try to reach everyone as soon as possible. Make sure you are registered with a GP to receive an invitation.

More information

You can find information about screening and about symptoms of cancer in the cancer types information.

Last reviewed: 
01 Jul 2020
Next review due: 
04 Sep 2020

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