Breast and cervical cancer screening

Cancer screening programmes support the early detection of breast cancer and cervical cancer. Cervical screening is estimated to save 4,500 lives in England each year, while breast screening is estimated to save 1,300.

How has the proportion of women screened changed?

The coverage of breast cancer screening for eligible women increased from 64% in 2002 to around 77% since 2009 and has been more or less stable for the past few years (76% in 2016). Cervical cancer screening coverage, however, has been more variable. Coverage was steadily declining between 2002 and 2008. After this, rates rose from 73% to a high of 76% in 2010. One explanation for this is that in 2008-09, Jade Goody, a TV celebrity, died an early death from cervical cancer. This may have led to an increase in awareness of cervical cancer screening by women. However this increase has not been sustained and rates have been falling since 2010. As of 2016 72% of the eligible population were adequately screened.

Updated April 2017.

Source: 
NHS Digital

How has the proportion of women having adequate cervical screening changed by age?

We can see that overall cervical screening coverage for women aged 25-64 increased in 2008 but has been declining since 2011. As of 2016 cervical screening coverage amongst women aged 25-64 was 73%.

Good practice is for women aged 25-49 to be screened every 3.5 years, whilst those aged 50-64 should be screened at least every five years. When we separate these age groups, the increase in coverage in 2008 is only seen in women aged 25-49 and not amongst women aged 50-64. The proportion of women aged 50-64 adequately screened has actually been decreasing since 2005, most noticeably from 2009.

Updated January 2017.

Source: 
NHS Digital

How has the proportion of women being invited for cervical screening changed?

As the coverage of cervical screening varies, by age group and over time, it is important to explore the trends in screening invitations for women. The proportion of eligible women aged 25-49 invited has generally increased and was at a high of 39% in 2012. Since 2013, the proportion of eligible women aged 25-49 invited for screening has stayed at a similar level. As of 2016, 33% of these women had been invited for screening. The proportion of women aged 50-64 invited has generally been decreasing since the high of 30% seen in 2005. In 2016, this was nine percentage points lower at 21%.

Updated January 2017.

Source: 
NHS Digital

How does cervical cancer screening coverage compare to other countries?

Data collection varies in each country. Some countries collect survey data and some have screening programmes, symbols in the chart denote data collection: ^ = Survey data * = Programme data.

When compared to other countries, the UK has had one of the highest cervical cancer screening rates since 2000. However, there has been a gradual decline in the proportion of women screened, from 84% in 2000 to 78% in 2013. Screening rates have been more or less steady since 2008 with an average of 76.4% females aged 20-69 screened.

Source: 
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Health Data

How does breast cancer screening coverage compare to other countries?

Breast cancer screening coverage of females aged 50-69 in the UK has been steady over the years with an average of 76%. UK has one of the highest screening rates of the comparator OECD countries, with higher rates only in Finland (84.8%) and the Netherlands (80.1%) in 2011. 

Last updated: July 2015.

Source: 

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Health Data

About this data

How to calculate coverage

The percentage of women in a population eligible for breast screening at a given point in time, who were screened adequately within a specified period:

  • Numerator: number of women aged 53-70 who were resident in the area (determined by postcode of residence) with a screening test result in the previous three years.
  • Denominator: number of women aged 53-70 who are eligible for breast screening at a given point in time.

The percentage of women in a population eligible for cervical screening at a given point in time who were screened adequately within a specified period:

  • Numerator: number of women aged 25-49 who were resident in the area (determined by postcode of residence) with an adequate screening test in the previous three and a half years plus the number of women aged 50-64 resident in the area with an adequate screening test in the previous five years.
  • Denominator: number of women aged 25-64 who are eligible for cervical screening at a given point in time.

International data: Number of women aged 20-69 who have been screened for cervical cancer within the past three years (or according to the specific screening frequency recommended in each country) divided by the number of women aged 20-69 answering the survey question (for survey-based data) or eligible for an organised screening programme (for programme-based data). In many countries, the recommended screening frequency will be every three years. Countries were selected based on data availability.

Note: ^ = Survey data * = Programme data

For further information about limitations in data comparability please see Health at a Glance 2013.

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