Most Boomers have been in a situation where they’ve been urged by a GP, health professional or a letter in the post to undergo screening for cancer. While the regular reminders about bowel, breast and cervical cancer testing can seem annoying or intrusive at times, they actually do reduce the likelihood of death.
The latest statistics showing the mortality rate of people whose cancer was diagnosed through screening versus those whose wasn’t is nothing short of shocking, with the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare releasing a new report revealing how testing for some of the country’s biggest cancer killers can save lives – if detected early.
As highlighted in the Analysis of cancer outcomes and screening behaviour for national cancer screening programs in Australia report, those with breast, cervical and bowel cancers that are detected through national screening programs have a better survival chance than people who aren’t screened. The report, which specifically focuses on the three cancers, analysed survival rates and outcomes of those diagnosed with the cancers to understand the benefit – if any – of early screening. The study also examined patterns of screening for the cancers.
When it came to cervical cancer, roughly 5 per cent of cases were diagnosed through cervical screening, with these women having an 87 per cent lower risk of dying from cervical cancer than women who had never had screening.
Similarly, the risk of dying from bowel cancer was 40 per cent lower for people aged between 50 and 69, who were diagnosed through the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, compared to those diagnosed outside the program. Around 11 per cent of the 31,000 bowel cancers diagnosed between the 2006-2012 study period were diagnosed through the national program.
Screening also helped women diagnosed with breast cancer. The risk of death was 42 per cent lower for those diagnosed through BreastScreen Australia, compared to women who hadn’t been tested or screened. About 44 per cent of the almost 73,5000 breast cancers diagnosed in 2002-2012 were diagnosed through BreastScreen.
The purpose of screening programs is not just to detect cancer, but to detect the disease earlier to improve outcomes for patients. In turn, this reduces the impact on the health system. The research also found that women who were diagnosed with cancer through a one screening program were more likely to participate in other programs they were eligible for. This means more cancers are likely to be detected, which can lower to risk of death.
Testing is also important because signs and symptoms aren’t always visible or can point to other health problems. For example, symptoms of bowel cancer can include abdominal pain, bloating, weight loss and bleeding from the back passage, but these symptoms don’t always mean someone has bowel cancer. All Australians aged between 50 and 74 will be offered a free bowel cancer test every two years from 2020, according to the Cancer Council.
Ageing is one of the leading risk factors for breast cancer, however, regular screening mammograms offered at more than 500 free screening locations around the country are encouraged every two years. This can be arranged by calling BreastScreen on 12 20 50.
Cervical cancer on the other hand rarely causes symptoms, but cervical screening tests should be conducted every two to five years up until 74 – depending on the results of previous tests. If unsure of when a test last occurred, screening can be arranged and discussed with GPs and health professionals.