Screening and diagnostics: what’s the difference?

When it comes to cancer, the terms ‘screening’ and ‘diagnostics are often – incorrectly – used interchangeably. Cancer screening is for people without current symptoms, while cancer diagnostic appointments are for people with current symptoms that are suspicious of cancer. 

Both screening and diagnostics tests may include a physical exam, X-ray, ultrasound, MRI, blood or body fluid tests. Regular screening coupled with quick diagnostic testing helps to ensure that cancer is caught early, giving the patient the best chance of successful treatment and recovery.


Screening is one of the best ways to protect against cancer. It enables cancer to be caught at the earliest possible stage, before symptoms show. Early detection saves lives.

Screening may be included as part of an annual physical and is usually conducted on a regular basis every few years depending on the cancer. It may also be recommended if you have certain risk factors—if you smoke, have a personal or family history of disease, or are of a certain age or demographic, for example.

Cancer screening is sometimes offered by the NHS for patients within at-risk age groups. For example, cervical cancer is most common in women aged 30-35, therefore women between the ages of 25-49 will be screened on the NHS every three years, women between 50-64 every five years, and women over 65 only if one of their last three tests was abnormal¹. 

However, only 66% of younger women and 80% of older women attend NHS cervical screening appointments. If cervical cancer is diagnosed in the early stages, up to 90% of women aged under 40 will survive. This is why early detection is so important².

Check4Cancer offers private cancer screening for skin, breast, bowel, cervical, prostate and lung cancer. Find out more and book an appointment here.


A diagnostic examination for cancer is performed when symptoms, such as bleeding, a lump and/or pain, or other reasons that raise suspicion that cancer is the cause. These diagnostics are often conducted as a follow-up to a screening procedure that may have found possible signs of cancer. 

Diagnostic tests tend to be more invasive and extensive to provide the most accurate diagnosis. For example, breast cancer screening is conducted via an X-ray test called a mammogram and/or a breast ultrasound, while diagnosis is confirmed via biopsy, where a sample of cells is extracted using a needle and tested to see if it is cancerous.

Check4Cancer offers diagnostic testing for skin, breast and prostate cancer. Find out more and book an appointment..

Take ownership of your health, and that of your family, and get checked for cancer now – it could save your life.