Why you should get screened for cancer

Cancer Council NSW
Doctor conducting a mammogram on a patient.

It’s easy to put off cancer screening, especially when the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted many of our lives. But cancer does not delay and may not show any symptoms in its early stages. Early detection of cancer is the key to improving treatment outcomes, so it’s important to get screened.

In Australia, there are three national screening programs for breast, bowel and cervical cancer. These are designed to detect very early cancer, before symptoms appear and for cervical and bowel screening, even before a cancer occurs.

Breast cancer screening

Breast cancer can be treated successfully if it is found early. Regularly checking your breasts and having screening mammograms can help find breast cancer early.

Mammography is the tool for detecting breast cancer early. It can show breast changes that can’t be felt during a physical examination. It is performed by radiographers and appointments take about 30 minutes.

Women aged 50 to 74 can undergo free mammograms every two years through the government’s screening program, BreastScreen NSW. If you have a strong family history of breast cancer or a genetic condition that can cause breast cancer, ask your GP whether you need to start screening at an earlier age.

Bowel cancer screening

The bowel screening test is known as faecal occult blood tests (FOBT). It finds microscopic blood in your bowel motion (poo) that may indicate there is a problem.

If your tests find blood in your poo, it does not always mean you have bowel cancer; the actual cause will need to be investigated further.

If you are an Australian citizen aged 50 to 74, you are eligible for a free, simple test that you can do at home. You will be invited to do the screening test every two years.

The test is mailed to you with instructions. Once you have done the test, the samples are sent to the pathology laboratory. They are examined and the result will be sent to you and your doctor within two weeks.

Cervical cancer screening

A cervical screening test detects cancer-causing types of human papillomavirus (HPV) in a sample of cells taken from the cervix. It is done through a doctor, nurse or health worker and takes about a few minutes.

Women aged 25 to 74 are recommended to take a cervical screening test two years after their last Pap test, and then once every five years.

Some women can self-collect their sample – talk to your doctor to find out if you are eligible.

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