Being proactive for your health – a simple screening can save lives

A worrying side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the sharp decrease in people avoiding their regular health check-ups. In particular, we’ve seen significantly less screenings for cancers.

Usually in Australia, one new diagnosis of cancer occurs every four minutes and 137 deaths relate to cancer every day. Even with such staggering statistics, there is hope and there are preventative actions that you can take regardless of whether we are living in a pandemic or not.

GMHBA’s own general practitioner Dr Anthea Condilis has a passion for prevention and shares her knowledge of cancer screening programs available to all Australians to help us combat this issue. 

What is health screening?

Screening tests are tests performed in the absence of symptoms. They are different to diagnostic tests which are performed if you already have symptoms of a disease and aim to confirm that a disease is present. Screening tests are designed to detect a disease in its early stages, before symptoms have developed, and at a stage that affords more straightforward treatments and better outcomes.

Many kinds of tests offered by your GP may be considered a screening test, a cholesterol check is one example. But this type of testing is targeted towards individual patients that have a higher risk of developing a certain disease. Alternatively, formal population-based screening programs are offered routinely to all people when you meet certain criteria such as age and gender.

What cancers do we screen for in Australia?

In Australia, some cancers do not have population-wide screening program because they don’t yet fit the public health criteria. In the case of relatively common skin, lung and prostate cancers, for instance, we lack suitable and acceptable tests for population-wide screening. However, your GP may offer you tests if you have very strong risk factors or you are displaying symptoms for these cancers.

There are tests available for three cancers for which population screening is advisable in Australia. These programs are:

For these screenings, the cost of processing your test at the laboratory or imaging service is fully covered by the Medical Benefits Scheme (MBS). The breast and bowel screening tests can be performed without you even visiting your GP. However participation rates in these programs could be improved.

Every Australian is invited to take advantage of these screening programs, which are performed at set intervals, depending on the sex and age criteria. Once you participate in one of these programs you will receive reminders through The National Cancer Screening Register (NCSR), an electronic system for the collection, storage, analysis and reporting of cancer screening program data.

For more information