Cancer screening programs look for early signs of the disease or indications that a person is more likely to develop the disease in the future. In most cases early detection of cancer increases the chances of successful treatment, and detecting and treating precursors to cancer can prevent the cancer from developing at all.
The Department of Health is responsible for overseeing the three national cancer screening programs in Victoria:
- breast cancer screening
- cervical cancer screening
- bowel cancer screening.
Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in Victoria, and the second most common cause of cancer death. In 2017, 3,910 Victorians were diagnosed with bowel cancer and 1,310 died of the disease.
More than ninety per cent of bowel cancers can be successfully treated if found early.
National Bowel Cancer Screening Program
The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program invites eligible people aged 50 to 74 to screen for bowel cancer using a free, simple test at home every two years.
The Victorian Department of Health is responsible for the implementation of the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program in Victoria, including timely access to colonoscopy for public patients, delivery of the Participant Follow-up Function, facilitating research and education for health professionals, and initiatives to improve community awareness and participation in screening.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in Victorian women and the second most common cause of cancer death. In 2017, 4,524 Victorian women were diagnosed with breast cancer and 779 died from the disease. After a diagnosis of breast cancer, 90 per cent of women survive for at least five years.
Finding breast cancer early offers women the best chance of successful treatment and recovery.
BreastScreen Australia Program
The BreastScreen Australia Program is jointly funded by the Commonwealth, state and territory governments. While the program invites women aged 50–74 years to have a free mammogram at a breast screening clinic every two years, all women over the age of 40 are able to access the program.
The National Cervical Screening Program
Regular cervical screening is the best protection for women and people with a cervix against cervical cancer.
Having regular Cervical Screening Tests can prevent around 90% of cervical cancers through early detection and treatment. Most people who develop cervical cancer in Australia are either overdue for screening or have never been screened.
People aged 25 to 74 who have a cervix, and have ever been sexually active, need a Cervical Screening Test every five years, even if they’ve had the HPV vaccine.
The HPV vaccine does not protect against all types of HPV infection known to cause cervical cancer, so regular screens are still required for eligible people who have been vaccinated.
The Cervical Screening Test is effective because it detects the human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes almost all cervical cancers.
The body can get rid of most HPV infections naturally but if it doesn’t, some types of HPV can cause changes to the cells of the cervix. If these cell changes are not picked up early and treated, they can turn into cervical cancer.
From 1 July 2022, the National Cervical Screening Program (NCSP) has expanded screening test options, offering self-collection as a choice for all people participating in cervical screening. The change means people aged 25-74 years will have the choice to screen using either a self-collected vaginal sample or a healthcare provider (doctor or nurse) collected test sample from the cervix.
Both options are equally accurate and safe ways to detect HPV or any associated cervical disease.
People of any age who experience symptoms including abnormal vaginal bleeding, pain during sex or unusual vaginal discharge, should see their GP or healthcare provider as soon as possible.
Reviewed 17 January 2023