Screening programs aim to detect disease in a patients who do not have symptoms. A screening program is aimed at the age group where the disease is most prevalent and aims to detect disease at a time where an intervention is likely to save lives.
Bowel cancer screening
Australia has one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world. Around one in 23 Australians will develop bowel cancer during their lifetime.
The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP) invites eligible people starting at age 50 and continuing to age 74 (without symptoms) to screen for bowel cancer using a free, simple test at home.
You will be sent your first bowel cancer screening kit around your 50th birthday, and then eventually every 2 years after that (the program is progressively being rolled out from every 5 years to every 2 years). In NSW only about 35% of eligible people send in their samples so the benefit of the program to individuals and the population is less that optimal.
Check when your test kit will arrive
Watch the video about how to use the screening kit.
Talk to your GP before doing the test if you have:
- a strong family history of bowel cancer
- a bowel condition that is under treatment
- had a colonoscopy in the past 5 years, or have one scheduled
Symptoms that should prompt a review by your doctor:
- blood in bowel motion
- persistent diarrhoea or constipation
- unexplained tiredness or weight loss
- abdominal pain
Cervical screening (Pap smears)
Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers, and the program in Australia has saved many lives. Cervical screening has changed in Australia.The Pap test has been replaced with a new Cervical Screening Test every five years. The start date for Cervical Screening is now age 25.
During the transition, you should have your next test at the time it will fall due, that is 2 years after your last Pap test. After that, you will only need to have the test every five years if your result is normal.
The test is a simple procedure to check the health of your cervix. It feels the same as the Pap test, but tests for the human papillomavirus (known as HPV).
If you have never had a Pap test, and are nervous about doing so, please ask you GP to explain the procedure to you. There will be an option for self -collected samples for women over 30 (though this method is less sensitive). Please discuss this with your GP.
Symptoms that should prompt review by your GP:
- unexpected bleeding in between your periods
- bleeding after sexual intercourse
- new vaginal discharge
- pelvic pain
Breast cancer screening
Breastscreen NSW invites you to have your first screening mammogram at age 50. Breast screening is recommended for women aged 50-74. They will also do screening from age 40, though the program overall is less effective in this age group, and you might wish to discuss with your GP or review the information on their website.
If you have a strong family history of breast cancer, for example a close relative who had breast cancer at a young age, you should discuss this with your doctor. Besides family history, there are many other factors that could increase your risk of breast cancer. You can read more here.
Symptoms that should prompt review by your GP at any age, are any changes to your breasts including:
- Breast lump
- nipple discharge
- itchy nipple
- skin changes overlying breast tissue