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
On 1 December 2017, the cervical screening test replaced the Pap test. Women aged 25 to 74 years are eligible to participate in the National Cervical Screening Program (NCSP).
The cervical screening test will protect up to 30 per cent more women from cervical cancer.
The cervical screening test is highly effective because it detects HPV, a common virus that can cause cervical cell abnormalities that in rare cases may develop into cervical cancer.
Women 25 or older should have their first cervical screening test two years after their last Pap test, if their Pap test result was normal.
Once a cervical screening test has been completed, women will only need to be tested every five years (instead of every two) if their results are normal and they do not have HPV.
Five yearly screening is safe. This is because it usually takes 10 to 15 years for a persistent HPV infection to develop into cervical cancer.
HPV is so common that many people have it at some point in their lives and never know it, as there are usually no symptoms. Most HPV infections are cleared naturally by the body’s immune system within one to two years without causing problems.
Women who have received the HPV vaccine still need to be regularly screened as the vaccine does not protect against all types of HPV infection known to cause cervical cancer.
Women of any age who have symptoms such as unusual bleeding, discharge or pain should see their healthcare provider immediately.
Tel. 1800 627 701
Reviewed 11 May 2021