Some cancers can be detected at an early stage when treatment is likely to be more effective. Tests have been developed that can detect these cancers well before any symptoms are present.
It is important to get to know your body and visit your doctor if you notice any unusual changes.
Tests are currently available through national screening programs for breast cancer, cervical cancer and bowel cancer. These tests are provided free of charge for people who are eligible.
To detect cancer early there are two things you can do
Participate in the national cancer screening programs for bowel, breast and cervical cancer.
You also need to be aware of what is normal for you and see your doctor if you notice any unusual changes.
Check-ups - why should I have a check up and when?
Most cancers can be detected in the early stages, when they’re easier to treat if the symptoms are noticed.
It is important for people of all ages to have a check-up from your GP when you notice anything unusual or have any concerns. Know what is normal for you so that you can quickly identify when there are changes.
Things to look out for:
Treatment can be more effective when cancer is found early. Keep an eye out for any unusual changes to your body, such as:
- Lumps or sores that don’t heal (like an ulcer in your mouth).
- Coughs or hoarseness that won’t go away or coughing up blood.
- Unexplained weight loss.
- A mole or skin spot that changes shape, size or colour or that bleeds.
- Lumpiness or a thickened area in your breasts, any changes in the shape or colour of your breasts, unusual nipple discharge, a nipple that turns inwards (if it hasn’t always been that way) or any unusual pain.
- A lump in the neck, armpit or anywhere else in the body.
- Changes in toilet habits that last more than two weeks, blood in a bowel motion.
- Unusual vaginal discharge or bleeding.
Screening - is it for me?
Screening is not recommended for everyone. It involves having a test for cancer when you don’t have any symptoms. It’s a great way of detecting some cancers early, when there’s a much better chance of successful treatment. It is recommended for specific groups where we know that there is a definite benefit. They are:
Breast screening – Women 50 – 74 years of age should attend mammographic screening for breast cancer every two years. (Whilst women aged 50-74 years are in our target age range for breast screening, all women over 40 are eligible to attend but will not receive an invitation).
Cervical screening – Women 25-74 years of age should have a Cervical Screening Test every 5 years to check for the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) HPV is the main cause of cervical cancer.
Bowel screening – Men and women aged 50-74 should do a faecal occult blood test (FOBT) every two years to check for signs of bowel cancer. Individuals who have a mother, father, sister or brother who has had bowel cancer should see their doctor to discuss their individual risk.
What should I do if I am worried about a specific cancer?
If you have any concerns or if you have a family history, see your doctor to identify your own risk.
National Screening Programs
National Screening Programs
National screening programs are available in Australia to detect breast cancer, bowel cancer and cervical cancer.
These programs are available free of charge to people for whom there is evidence that the screening test can find a cancer at a stage when treatment is more effective.
The aim of screening programs is to pick up very early cancers in healthy individuals, who do not have symptoms.
Bowel cancer screening
Bowel (or colorectal) cancer is the second most common cancer in Tasmanian men and women.
In 2006 the Australian Government introduced the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program.
The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP) uses the faecal occult blood test (FOBT) to detect hidden blood in bowel motions. By 2020 the NBCSP aims to send a FOBT kit to people aged 50 to 74 every two years.
Get it: People aged 50 to 74 will receive a kit in the mail.
Do it: The test is free, painless and will take just a few minutes at two different times. So don’t put it off until later – get it done.
Post it: Return the kit in the mail using the envelope provided. You don’t need to pay for postage.
Done: The results will be sent to you and your doctor (if you put his/her name on the form) within two weeks.
For information about the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, call 1800 118 868 or go to www.cancerscreening.gov.au
If you are not yet eligible for the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program but are aged 50 or over, you should still have an FOBT every two years. This can be arranged through your doctor, or you can purchase a bowel screening kit from most pharmacies.
Any person who experiences persistent changes to their bowel habits, has a family history of bowel cancer or is concerned about bowel cancer, should see their doctor.
Breast cancer screening
Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in Tasmanian women. Early detection and appropriate treatment can significantly improve breast cancer survival.
BreastScreen Australia is a national mammography screening program available free of charge to women over the age of 40.
It is aimed at well women without symptoms, aged between 50 and 74 years (women aged 40-49 and 75 years and older are also able to attend if they wish).
Eligible women will receive a letter to undertake a mammogram and this should be done every two years. To make an appointment at your nearest BreastScreen service phone 13 20 50 (cost of a local phone call).
For more information visit BreastScreen or call 13 20 50.
Cervical cancer screening
The National Cervical Screening Program was introduced to Australia in 1991. Over the following 10 years, cervical cancer incidence almost halved, preventing more than 1200 new cases of the disease annually.
Regular cervical screening is your best protection against cervical cancer.
As of December 2017, the cervical screening program in Australia changed. The Pap test has been replaced with a new Cervical Screening Test every five years. It feels the same as the Pap test, but tests for the human papillomavirus (HPV) which is the main cause of cervical cancer.
Women aged 25-74 years are encouraged to have regular cervical screening every 5 years to detect early changes that, if left undetected and untreated, can lead to cervical cancer.
If you are eligible for the program, you should receive a letter inviting you to participate in the program. If you don’t receive a letter, speak with your doctor or call 13 15 56.
Cancer Council Tasmania strongly recommends that eligible people take part in the national screening programs, while remaining aware of your body at all times. If you notice any changes to your body at any time, see your doctor.
Prostate cancer screening
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in Tasmanian men.
There is no screening program for prostate cancer. Men concerned about prostate cancer should talk to their GP and make an informed choice about whether to have a PSA (prostate specific antigen) blood test or a digital rectal examination to find early signs of prostate cancer. The potential risks and benefits of these tests will be discussed.
If you have any concerns or questions, please contact your doctor.
If you require further information or would like to talk to someone about prostate cancer, call Cancer Council on 13 11 20.
Immunisation – stimulating the body’s immune system to protect against specific diseases – can help to prevent cancer by reducing the prevalence of precancerous viral infections.
The most prominent virus-related cancers are cervical cancers, 99.7% of which are linked to the human papillomavirus (HPV), and liver cancer, more than half of which are caused by persistent hepatitis B infection.
Both HPV and hepatitis B can be controlled through immunisation as primary prevention; cervical cancer burden is also controlled through screening as secondary prevention, using the Cervical Screening test.
Human papillomavirus (HPV)
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted infection that is responsible for the majority of cervical cancer.
A vaccine, Gardasil, protects against the two main strains of HPV which cause 70% of cervical cancers. The vaccine is available through the National Immunisation Program for all boys and girls aged 12–13 years. The vaccine is most effective at this stage, before sexual activity has commenced.
Cancer Council recommends women who have been sexually active to take part in the national cervical cancer screening program once over the age of 25. Vaccinated women still need to undertake screening as the vaccine does not protect against all strains of HPV.
If you need more information or would like to talk to someone about cervical cancer, the Cervical Screening Test or HPV vaccine call Cancer Council on 13 11 20 or visit Cervical Screening Program.