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Who can benefit from free cancer screening in France?

The Local France
The Local France - [email protected]
Who can benefit from free cancer screening in France?
A patient undegoing screening for breast cancer. (Photo by ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT / AFP)

France runs an extensive cancer screening programme, with free screenings for those in at-risk age categories available for some of the most common cancers.

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Regular cancer screening check-ups, whether you are symptomatic or not, can help detect cancer early, making it more treatable, or allow preventative action to be taken. 

If you are registered in the French system and have a carte vitale you have the right to free check-ups for breast, cervical and bowel cancer, once you hit a particular age bracket.

If you're not registered in the French system you can still have the screening in France (as long as you're resident here), but it won't be free. If you've applied for a carte vitale but it has not yet arrived, you can request a feuille de soin when you pay for the appointment - this is basically a type of receipt that will allow you to claim back the cost once you get your card.

This is how the process works.

Breast cancer (cancer du sein)

Women aged between 50 and 74 are covered by France’s breast cancer screening programme. Examinations are recommended every two years between those two ages, and eligible carte vitale holders should receive a letter inviting them to a mammogram.

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The cost of the screening is covered by the State on presentation of the invitation letter or email.

Reminders are sent – electronically to your online Ameli account if you have one – after six months and again after a year, if you don’t take advantage of the invitation.

Cervical cancer (cancer du col de l’utérus)

Cervical cancer screenings are offered free to women between the ages of 25 and 65. 

For those aged between 25 and 29, the first two free smear tests take place one year apart. If the results of both screenings are normal, the next examination is three years later.

From the age of 30, screenings are recommended every five years up to the age of 65.

If you have not completed the screening within the recommended time frame, you will receive an invitation to do so. 

Bowel cancer (cancer colorectal)

Every two years, eligible adults aged between 50 and 74 will receive an invitation to order a free test online.

The test is to be carried out at home and returned free of charge by post. The colorectal cancer screening kit is provided or ordered free of charge, and the test analysis is covered at 100 percent via the carte vitale.

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From now on, if you have not been screened, the first and second reminders can be sent electronically via your Ameli account. 

Prostate cancer (cancer de la prostate)

In case you’re wondering, prostate cancer is not routinely screened for in France because the two standard forms of screening - physical and by blood test - are not sufficiently accurate to justify routine tests. 

But anyone who thinks they need a check-up can arrange one by visiting their GP. 

General health checks

Prevention check-ups have been introduced aimed at anyone in the following age brackets: 18-25; 45-50; 60-65; and 70-75.

You will receive a letter from your health insurance company inviting you to make an appointment for a preventive check-up where you can discuss:

  • your personal and family medical history;
  • prevention and identification of chronic diseases;
  • your lifestyle habits;
  • your mental and social well-being.

The idea is to identify potential future health problems, including the likelihood of cancer, and prevent them from happening.

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Call-ups

As stated above, you should be contacted via Ameli and invited to screenings once you are in the right age group. However it can happen that new arrivals are missed off the list, or you have have missed out on screenings while living in another country.

If you're in the right age bracket but haven't been sent an invitation, you can still make an appointment with your doctor for the relevant test - cervical smear tests are usually gone by a gynaecologist or midwife, rather than a GP.

If you're worried and want screening more often that the free sessions offered, there's nothing to stop you making an appointment directly with your doctor or gynaecologist - these tests would be charged at the doctor's standard rate for appointments and reimbursed at the usual appointment rate too (normally 70 percent reimbursed by the state and the rest covered by your mutuelle if you have one).

The cervical smear test involves taking a scraping of cells from the neck of the womb, which are then sent off to a laboratory for analysis. If you have your test done at a health centre it's likely that clerical staff will take care of sending off the sample for you, but if it's done by a gynaecologist or midwife who is a sole practitioner they may give you the sample (in a pre-addressed envelope) to pop into the post on your way home.

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