Improvements in cancer detection and cancer treatments means that there are increasing numbers of people living with and beyond cancer.
A large focus of cancer survivorship is undergoing regular surveillance and monitoring (scans, blood tests, check-ups) specific to the cancer diagnosed – for at least 5 years, sometimes longer.
It would be natural to think that because you have already been diagnosed with a cancer, that surely you couldn’t be diagnosed with another cancer? Unfortunately, that is not the case – some people do in fact get a second cancer diagnosis, unrelated to their previous cancer.
This is why it is important that you continue to participate in regular cancer screening programs.
There are a number of cancers that can be detected early through routine screening. By finding cancer at an early stage, there is a better chance that treatment will be effective, and early detection can save lives!
In Australia there are 3 population-based screening programs:
Breast screening involves a type of x-ray machine that takes images of a women’s breast to look for small cancers that cannot be seen or felt. This is called a mammogram.
Women aged between 50 – 74 are invited to participate in breast cancer screening with a free mammogram every 2 years. Women from 40 years are eligible to participate, however do not receive an invite.
To book an appointment or for more information visit: https://www.breastscreen.qld.gov.au/
National Cervical Screening Program
Women and people with a cervix aged 25 to 74 years of age are invited to have a Cervical Screening Test every 5 years through their healthcare provider (GP).
Previously cervical cancer screening involved a pap test which looked for changes in the cells of the cervix, the entrance to the uterus (womb) from the vagina. This test was replaced in 2017 and now involves a screening test looks for evidence of the human papillomavirus (HPV), which can lead to cell changes in the cervix. Most cases of HPV clear up on their own, however, sometimes it can develop into cancer.
Cervical screening can now also be done with a self-collection test – find out more about this option here.
National Bowel Cancer Screening Program:
Eligible people aged 50 to 74 are mailed a free bowel screening test done at home every 2 years.
The Australian Government is considering lowering the eligible starting age of the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program from 50 to 45 years. For now, kits are only sent to eligible people aged 50 to 74.
People aged 45 to 49 can speak to their doctor, who can offer screening with a Medicare-funded kit. You can also purchase a private screening kit at most pharmacies or online.
The at-home bowel screening test is called a faecal immunochemical test (FIT). The test is quick and easy, and involves collecting toilet water or poo samples, placing them on a card or in a container, and mailing them to a pathology laboratory for analysis. The results are then sent back to you and your GP.
The bowel screening test looks for very small amounts of blood in poo that is not visible to the naked eye. Blood in poo can be caused from pre-cancerous polyps or from early stage bowel cancer (there are also a number of other non-cancerous causes of blood in poo). The test however does not detect bowel cancer itself. Following a positive bowel screening test you should be referred by your GP for further investigation via colonoscopy (within 30 days).
If you have visible blood in your poo, or other symptoms of bowel cancer (as below) then you should not participate in bowel screening test, but speak to your GP for referral for further investigations.
Other cancer screening
A commonly used test to investigate men with symptoms of prostate cancer is the prostate specific antigen (PSA) blood test, along with digital rectal examination (DRE) and ultrasound. PSA levels can rise due to cancer as well as non-cancer related conditions. PSA can also be low in the presence of cancer. For this reason, PSA alone is not an adequate test to screen for cancer in healthy people without symptoms.
It is common for men and people with prostates over the age of 50 to experience changes to urinary flow, frequency and urgency – which can be caused by prostate cancer as well as non-cancerous enlargement of the prostate. Whilst there is no population-based screening program for prostate cancer, it is important for men and people with prostates to speak to their doctor about the benefits and harms of prostate cancer testing to make an informed choice.
For more information on prostate cancer screening in Australia read the position statement here.
Skin cancer accounts for around 80% of new cancer diagnoses. Non-melanoma skin cancers such as basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and keratinocyte cancers are more prevalent than melanoma’s, however melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. Most skin cancer can be successfully treated if found early, however there isn’t a population-based screening program for skin cancer.
It is strongly recommended that people become familiar with their skin, and consult a doctor if they notice any changes to shape, colour or size of any lesions, or development of any new lesions.
Individuals at high risk of skin cancer should see their doctor for 6 monthly full skin examinations.
People at an increased and high risk for skin cancer include those with:
- Fair skin, a tendency to burn rather than tan, freckles, light eye colour, light or red hair colour
- Increased numbers of unusual moles
- Depressed immune systems (risk factor for SCC)
- A family history of melanoma in a first degree relative
- Previous melanoma or keratinocytes
Here is a guide from Cancer Council on how to check your skin for signs of skin cancer and more information about skin cancer.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in Australia. As with all cancers, early detection of lung cancer can save lives.
Starting in July 2025 the Australian government will be implementing the National Lung Cancer Screening Program to support the early detection of lung cancer in high-risk individuals, with 2-yearly low-dose CT scans.
It is estimated that in the first 10 years of a lung cancer screening program in Australia, over 70% of all screen detected lung cancers would be diagnosed at an early stage, over 12,000 deaths would be prevented.
Read more about the National Lung Cancer Screening Program at Lung Foundation Australia
Ways to reduce your risk of cancer
Research suggests that a healthy lifestyle can help reduce the risk of developing cancer and other health problems, as well as reduce the risk of cancer recurrence, and halt or slow the development of existing cancer.
Here are recommendations from Cancer Council on reducing your risk. Read more on cancer prevention here.
If you smoke, quit; and avoid second-hand smoke. There is no safe level of tobacco use.
Protect yourself from the sun (slip, slop, slap, seek, slide).
|Be a healthy body weight
Keep your weight within the healthy range and avoid weight gain as an adult.
|Be physically active and sit less
Aim for 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise or 75 minutes) of vigorous exercise each week and 2–3 strength-training (resistance exercise) sessions each week.
Drink no more than 10 standard drinks a week and no more than 4 standard drinks on any one day.
Aim for 2 serves of fruit and 5 serves of vegetables or legumes a day. Eat a variety of wholegrain, wholemeal and high-fibre foods. Limit red meat and avoid processed meat.
Please contact our Nurses on 07 5445 5794 or firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.
The information in this document is based on resources from the Cancer Council Queensland. All information provided by Bloomhill is based on research and best practice guidelines. Our model of care utilizes the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia (COSA) domains of wellness along with available clinical evidence. Always consult your care team regarding matters that affect your health. This is a guide intended for information only.