Tuesday, 23 May 2017 10:46

Fight Cancer

Testing for Cancer

Most people at some stage of their life will be affected by cancer, either personally or by the experiences of family or friends with a cancer diagnosis. In an ideal world we could detect cancers of all forms in early curable stages and offer simple treatments that cause little other harm.

Unfortunately we only get to live in this world where the options for early detection are limited for many cancers and treatments are rarely simple or free from risk.

To detect early cancers in otherwise well people who are not at higher risk than average for the disease is called population screening. Currently in Australia there are 3 such programs, which are for Breast Cancer (Mammograms), Cervical Cancer (Pap Smears) and Bowel Cancer (Faecal Occult Blood Test). Considerable research has established the benefit of screening for these cancers in terms of reducing death rates from each and also has been shown to be financially worthwhile for us as a country. These screening programs are recommended and provided free for people in specific age ranges.

The difficulty exists for other cancers where the evidence of benefit for early detection, the accuracy and cost of the tests used and the potential harms caused by the testing are not as clear-cut. Whether or not to test will depend on your circumstances.

Worrying symptoms should be reported to your doctor who will investigate accordingly although this is not considered screening. Also people at higher risk than average for a particular cancer may benefit from testing. An example would be someone with fair skin, who works extensively outdoors or has a family history of melanoma. They would be well advised to have a full skin check with an experienced doctor every 6-12 months. Prostate cancer is also another example where testing for early disease requires an extensive discussion with a doctor about the risks and benefits of doing so.

Cancer screening is a complicated area. Unquestionably eligible people should make use of the Australia wide screening programs for breast, cervical and bowel cancer. Your local GP is best placed to discuss your individual circumstances with regard to other cancers and whether you may benefit from targeted screening depending upon your risk. Very useful information can also be obtained from visiting the Cancer Council website: CLICK HERE

Reading this both before and after seeing your doctor will allow you to make a well-informed choice.