Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2020) Cancer screening and treatment, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 29 May 2022.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2020). Cancer screening and treatment. Retrieved from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-health/cancer-screening-and-treatment
Cancer screening and treatment. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 23 July 2020, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-health/cancer-screening-and-treatment
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Cancer screening and treatment [Internet]. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2020 [cited 2022 May. 29]. Available from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-health/cancer-screening-and-treatment
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2020, Cancer screening and treatment, viewed 29 May 2022, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-health/cancer-screening-and-treatment
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Cancer is a major cause of illness in Australia—there are over 1 million people alive in Australia who are either living with or have lived with cancer (AIHW 2019b). Around 30 years ago, about 5 in 10 people survived for at least 5 years after their cancer diagnosis. More recent figures are closer to 7 in 10 people surviving at least 5 years (AIHW 2019b). Understanding and avoiding the risk factors associated with cancer can help to reduce the chance of getting the disease. Cancer screening programs increase the likelihood of detecting cancer early, enabling better outcomes from treatments. Improvements in treatments and care are also important contributors to improvements in survival. This page focuses on cancer screening programs and cancer treatments in Australia. See Cancer for information on cancer incidence, mortality, prevalence and survival.
Population-based cancer screening is an organised, systematic and integrated process of testing for signs of cancer or pre-cancerous conditions in populations without obvious symptoms. In Australia, there are national population-based screening programs for breast, cervical and bowel cancers. They are run through partnerships between the Australian Government and state and territory governments. The programs target populations and age groups where evidence shows that screening helps to reduce ill health and deaths from cancer.
BreastScreen Australia provides free 2-yearly screening mammograms (see Glossary) to women aged 40 and over, and actively targets women aged 50–74. Between 1 January 2016 and 31 December 2017:
From 1991 to 30 November 2017, the National Cervical Screening Program (NCSP) targeted women aged 20–69 for a 2-yearly Papanicolaou smear, or ‘Pap test’ (see Glossary).
Over time there have been improvements in technology as well as a greater understanding of the role of the human papillomavirus (HPV) in the development of cervical cancer. A HPV vaccine has been introduced that is administered to girls and boys under the National Immunisation Program (see also Immunisation and vaccination). All these developments led to a process by which the NCSP was reviewed and ‘renewed’, to ensure that the program continued to provide Australian women with safe and effective cervical screening. On 1 December 2017, a ‘renewed’ NCSP was introduced.
The renewed NCSP changed the way that women are screened. Instead of women aged 20–69 having a Pap test every 2 years, women aged 25–74 now have a Cervical Screening Test (CST) every 5 years (the CST is a HPV test, followed by a cytology test (see Glossary) if HPV is found). Another change is the collection of cervical screening data by the National Cancer Screening Register, which is now the primary source of cervical screening data.
The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP) was established in 2006, offering screening to 2 target ages (55 and 65). In 2014, the Australian Government announced that the target ages would be expanded to offer 2-yearly screening to all Australians aged 50–74. This expansion was completed in 2020.
In 2017–2018 (the latest reportable period), the program invited men and women turning 50, 54, 55, 58, 60, 62, 64, 66, 68, 70, 72 and 74 to screen for bowel cancer using a free immunochemical faecal occult blood test (iFOBT) (see Glossary).
National cancer diagnosis data do not reveal if a new case of cancer was identified through a screening program. This information can currently only be determined using data linkage. Recent linkage work conducted by the AIHW examined the effectiveness of the 3 national cancer screening programs on cancer mortality (AIHW 2018).
While population-based cancer screening in Australia focuses on asymptomatic populations for breast, cervical and bowel cancers, treatments for cancer aim to improve outcomes for individuals once they have received a cancer diagnosis, irrespective of the cancer type. Detailed reporting on cancer-related treatments can be found in Cancer in Australia 2019 (AIHW 2019b). Summaries of 4 key areas of cancer treatment (hospitalisations, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and palliative care) are presented below.
In 2016–17, there were around 1,229,000 cancer-related hospitalisations, accounting for about 11% of all hospitalisations in Australia (AIHW 2019b). Of these:
Chemotherapy involves the use of drugs (chemicals) to prevent or treat disease (in this case, cancer). Chemotherapy can be used on its own or in combination with other methods of treatment.
In 2016–17, around 684,000 chemotherapy procedures were performed for cancer-related hospitalisations (AIHW 2019b). Of these:
Radiotherapy is the use of X-rays to destroy or injure cancer cells so they cannot multiply and is an important part of cancer treatment. Australian research indicates that 48% of cancer patients should receive external beam therapy (the most common form of radiotherapy) at least once during their treatment (Barton et al. 2014). Similarly to chemotherapy, radiotherapy can be used on its own or in combination with other treatment methods.
In 2016–17, more than 63,500 courses of radiotherapy were administered in Australia (AIHW 2019b). Of these, around one-quarter of the radiotherapy courses for males were for prostate cancer (26%) and 44% of radiotherapy courses for females were for breast cancer.
In 2017, around 67,900 people received more than 2.2 million Medicare-subsidised radiotherapy services (AIHW 2019b). Of these:
Palliative care—sometimes referred to as ‘hospice care’, ‘end-of-life care’ and ‘specialist palliative care’—is an approach that aims to improve the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problems associated with life-threatening illness. This is done through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and assessment and treatment of pain and other problems, physical, psychosocial and spiritual (WHO 2002).
In 2016–17, around 77,400 hospitalisations in Australia involved palliative care (0.6% of all hospitalisations). Of these, 54% were cancer-related (AIHW 2019b).
The most common type of cancer recorded for palliative care hospitalisation was secondary site cancer (21%), followed by lung cancer (13%) and colorectal (bowel) cancer (6.8%) (AIHW 2019b).
For more information on cancer screening and treatment, see:
Visit Cancer screening and Cancer for more on this topic.
AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2018. Analysis of cancer outcomes and screening behaviour for national cancer screening programs in Australia. Cat. no. CAN 115. Canberra: AIHW.
AIHW 2019a. BreastScreen Australia monitoring report 2019. Cat. no. CAN 128. Canberra: AIHW.
AIHW 2019b. Cancer in Australia 2019. Cat. no. CAN 123. Canberra: AIHW.
AIHW 2019c. Cervical screening in Australia 2019. Cat. no. CAN 124. Canberra: AIHW.
AIHW 2019d. National Bowel Cancer Screening Program: monitoring report 2019. Cat. no. CAN 125. Canberra: AIHW.
AIHW 2019e. National cancer screening programs participation data. Cat. no. CAN 114. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 2 December 2019.
Barton M, Jacob S, Shafiq J, Wong K, Thompson S, Hanna T et al. 2014. Estimating the demand for radiotherapy from the evidence: a review of changes from 2003 to 2012. Radiotherapy and Oncology 112:140–4.
WHO (World Health Organization) 2002. National cancer control programmes: policies and managerial guidelines. 2nd edn. Geneva: WHO.
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