Breast and cervical cancers screening programmes

NHS breast cancer screening programme

In 1986, the Forrest report on breast cancer screening concluded there was a convincing case to set up screening facilities for women over the age of 50, as long as there were effective resources in place to deal with any abnormalities detected.

The first women received screening through the NHS breast screening programme in 1988.

Early years of cervical cancer screening

The Pap smear for cervical cancer screening was developed in the 1940s. Screening in the UK first began in Northern Ireland in the 1960s. By 1985, three million smear tests had been conducted.

Despite this, there was little sign of a reduction in deaths attributable to cervical cancer. It was feared that screening was not targeting the women who were at greatest risk.

Additionally, there were concerns around the inconsistencies in follow-up, and treatment when someone tested positive for abnormalities that potentially led to cancer.

NHS cervical screening programme (NHSCSP)

These issues prompted the Department of Health to establish the NHS cervical screening programme (NHSCSP) in 1988.

Health authorities were required to introduce a computerised call and recall system, to ensure the offer of screening and follow-up appointments were reaching women. Health authorities were also instructed to ensure they met national quality standards in screening services.


Department of Health and Social Security.
Breast cancer screening: report to the health ministers of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office; 1986.

NHS Cancer Screening Programmes.
In: Patnick J (ed.).
Breast and cervical screening: the first 20 years.
NHSCSP; 2008.

Department of Health.
Cervical screening: a pocket guide.
NHSCSP; 2004.