Calls for UK to screen for diabetes: Experts say cancer-like programme could spot cases earlier

The NHS has a swathe of screening programmes aiming to catch health problems and disease early when they are easiest to treat.

With calls to make a specific diabetes screening programme MailOnline looks at those currently available:  

Antenatal screening

NHS health screening technically begins before we’re even born. 

Antenatal screening examines the health of a baby while they are in the womb.

It features a combination of ultrasounds and blood tests.

The blood tests can help determine if a baby has a chance of inherited conditions like sickle cell anaemia and if the mother has diseases like HIV hepatitis B or syphilis that medics need to be aware of.

An ultrasound can also help determine the general health of the foetus and if they have a condition like Down’s syndrome. 

Newborn screening

Shortly after a baby is born they undergo a variety of general health check. 

This involves a physical examination of the baby, a hearing test and a blood test to detect any health conditions or disabilities.

The physical examination is generally done 72 hours after birth.

It examines the eyes, heart, hips and for boys the testicles for any developmental problems that need to be treated or monitored. 

The blood test, which is taken from the baby’s heel, looks for nine rare but serious health conditions.

These include cystic fibroses, hormonal deficiencies and a variety of inheritable metabolic diseases.   

A hearing test is conducted within the first few weeks to see parents will need additional support as their baby grows. 

School entry health check 

When children first enter school, between the ages of four and five, parents are offered a general check of their health.

This includes examines the height and weight of the child to check if the under or overweight.

Other checks involve hearing and vision tests to ensure children get the necessary treatment like hearing aids or glasses before they start learning.  

Diabetes eye health check

This is a specific annual eye test that people with diabetes are invited for from the age of 12 onwards to ensure their disease is not damaging their vision. 

It involves taking pictures of the back of the eye to find if the high blood pressure caused by diabetes is leading to loss of sight. 

Called diabetic retinopathy, this damage can cause blindness if left untreated. 

Cervical cancer screening

Women between the age of 25 and 64 are invited for a cervical screening check.

Commonly referred to as the smear test it involves taking a swab of cells from the cervix via a woman’s vagina and takes about 15 minutes.

This swab is sent for analysis for human papillomavirus (HPV) a group of viruses that can trigger changes to cells that lead to cancer.

If the sample tests positive further tests and monitoring may be required to ensure if cancer does occur, it is detected early.

The regularity of cervical screening depends on a woman’s age.

From 25 to 49 an invitation is sent every three years.

From 50 to 64 the check is done every five years.

Cervical screening usually ends at the age of 65 but is sometimes continued if HPV is detected in one of the final swabs. 

The NHS 40+ health check 

This is a broad check-up available for all adults in England from the age of 40 to 74.

It aims to spot a range of age-related health conditions like stroke, kidney disease, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, or dementia as early as possible.

The check involves a quiz from a medic on your general health and family history, a physical examination, as well as blood pressure and blood tests.

The whole process is designed to take about 20 to 30 minutes.  

It is primarily designed for people who don’t have a pre-existing health condition, with those that do generally undergoing more regular tests. 

People are generally invited once they hit their 40s, and then invited back for another check every five years thereafter.   

Breast cancer screening

Women will be invited for a breast cancer screening to spot potential signs of breast cancer from the age of 50 onwards.

This check involves a mammogram, a special X-ray of the breast.

A total of four X-rays are taken, two for each breast in process that takes about half-an-hour.

Results are sent in the post with further tests required if any potential signs of cancer are spotted.

Women are invited back for screening every three years until the age of 71.

Bowel cancer screening 

Both men and women are sent a home bowel cancer screening kit when they reach the age of 60.

This involves collecting a small sample of poo which is then sent to a lab to detect any traces of blood.

Blood in stool can be a sign of cancer or growths called polyps that can turn into cancer over time. 

If the test detects anything potentially concerning the person is invited for further tests to ensure cancer is spotted early.

Like other cancers mentioned before, generally the earlier the disease is spotted the more effective potential treatment is. 

After taking part in bowel cancer screening people are sent another kit every two years.

The programme is being expanded to include Britons aged 50 and over.

This expansion is gradual starting with people in their late 50s and commended in April 2021.  

Abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) screening programme

The AAA programme is designed to detect for a bulge or swelling in the aorta which is the main blood vessel running from the heart to the abdomen. 

If not detected early it can burst, causing life-threatening blood loss. 

Screening for an AAA is offered to men over the age of 65 as they are the most likely group to suffer from the condition.

High blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease and being either a current or former smoker are risk factors for an AAA.

Screening for an AAA involves an ultrasound scan to check the physical condition of the heart.

People are generally told their results straight away.

Treatment depends on the size of the bulge.

Smaller ones are monitored regularly while a patient is recommended to make lifestyle changes like to their diet, exercise and cutting down on smoking and drinking.

Larger, more life-threatening AAAs may require surgery.