Less than one in five people can name the three cancers – breast, cervical and bowel – screened for by the NHS’s national screening programme.
A poll of more than 4,150 people by cancer charity Cancer Research UK found just 16% could correctly identify the three cancers as those currently screened for by the NHS.
Recognition among women for the breast screening programme was 94%, yet fewer than 60% also knew about cervical screening. Knowledge of bowel cancer screening was lowest, with just one-quarter of people aware of the programme.
The charity has called for the government to act to raise awareness of its screening programmes, arguing that screening plays a vital role in improving the outcome of cancer treatment by detecting cancer early or picking up changes before cancer develops.
Professor Stephen Duffy, Cancer Research UK’s professor of screening, said: “The uncertainty around what is screened for could be for a range of reasons. Lack of knowledge of the bowel cancer screening programme may be because the programme only recently began and is not yet available across the UK.
“There may be confusion that what is commonly called a smear test is a cervical screening test to detect abnormal cells before they become cancerous. Whatever the reasons may be, more work needs to be done to improve the awareness and understanding of cancer screening across the UK,” he added.
The charity’s Screening Matters campaign is aimed at increasing the number of people participating in screening and thereby reduce cancer deaths.