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Early detection and screening

Cancer screening saves lives

Early detection and screening

Cancer screening programs

National Screening Programs

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National Cancer Screening Register

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Cancer screening saves lives. Screening is one of the most effective ways to detect early signs of cancer.

It has never been more important to make sure your screening is up-to-date. If you put off or missed a cancer screening test during the pandemic, make sure you catch up. We understand you might be busy, but cancer screening could save your life.

We understand that you may have questions about the pandemic and COVID-19. For the latest information, visit our page on cancer and COVID-19. If you have any concerns, talk to your doctor or health care provider

National screening programs are available in Australia to detect breast cancer, bowel cancer and cervical cancer. So if you have received an invitation to screen, take your test today.

Cervical cancer

Women aged 25–74 will be invited to screen under the new Cervical Screening Program. Screening should be repeated every 5 years. If you are overdue for an appointment, or haven’t had a test since November 2017, now is the time to book one with your GP.

Bowel cancer

From 1st July 2024, the Australian Government is lowering the eligible screening age for the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program from 50 to 45.  

People aged 50-74 will still be sent a free home test kit by the Australian Government every two years, and now people aged 45-49 can also request a free screening kit to be mailed to them. 

The bowel cancer screening test is quick, simple, and completed at home in four easy steps.

Breast cancer 

Breast screening is recommended for women aged 50—74 and should be repeated every two years. Women aged 40–49 and over 74 are also eligible.

These programs are available free of charge. The aim of screening programs is to pick up very early cancers in healthy individuals, who do not have symptoms, or in some cases to prevent cancer.

If you are eligible for a screening test and have received an invitation to screen or have received a free home test kit, now is the time to tick cancer screening off your list.

For more information click on the relevant screening program below.

Early detection

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. 

Tests are currently available through national population-based screening programs for breast cancer, cervical cancer and bowel cancer. These tests are provided free of charge for people who are eligible.

It is also a good idea to get to know your own body. If you notice any changes, such as a lump in your breast or a spot growing on your skin, see your doctor.

General advice 

Treatment can be more effective when cancer is found early. Keep an eye out for any unusual changes to your body, such as:

  • 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
  • sores or ulcers that don't heal
  • coughs or hoarseness that won't go away or coughing up blood
  • changes in toilet habits that last more than two weeks, blood in a bowel motion
  • new moles or skin spots, or ones that have changed shape, size or colour, or that bleed
  • unusual vaginal discharge or bleeding
  • unexplained weight loss.

If you notice any changes, see your doctor immediately. For more information,  call Cancer Council 13 11 20.

Remember there are free screening programs available for breast cancercervical cancer and bowel cancer.

Information for health policy workers

Cancer Council Australia has a range of policy documents that address the early detection of cancer.

National Cancer Prevention Policy

Cancer Council Australia's National Cancer Prevention Policy provides evidence-based information for health professionals and policy makers on early detection and screening for cancer. It offers clear recommendations on how Australia can reduce the burden of cancer disease and death.

The National Cancer Prevention Policy advocates for a concerted and comprehensive national approach to the prevention of cancer. The policy makes specific recommendations for national action by governments and non-government organisations, including programs and strategies to reduce the incidence and mortality of cancer in Australia. It does not provide information about cancer prevention for individuals.

Cancer Council position statements

Cancer Council Australia has developed a range of evidence-based position statements to communicate our position on key cancer issues.

Position statements are developed by Cancer Council's expert committees and are based on the evidence available. All statements are reviewed regularly, in accordance with Cancer Council Australia's position statements policy.

Roadmap for Optimising Screening in Australia - Breast

The Roadmap for Optimising Screening in Australia – Breast (ROSA) project began in 2018. It was formally known as Optimising Early Detection of Breast Cancer in Australia project.Cancer Council has been funded by the Australian Government to explore options for more risk-based, personalised approaches to early detection of asymptomatic breast cancer in Australia.

Information for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders

The information contained in this section should not be used for individual medical advice. Please see your doctor if you have concerns or specific questions relating to your health.

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