Why does it matter if cancer screening is delayed?

Screening aims to detect cancers early, either by detecting any early precancerous signs (to stop the cancer developing in the first place) or by detecting cancers when they are small (and treatment options and survival prospects are better). People who are diagnosed through the 3 national cancer screening programs generally have much better survival prospects than those who are diagnosed when their cancers have become symptomatic and are more advanced (AIHW 2018).

If screening is delayed or missed, it is possible that a precancerous abnormality may progress to cancer, or a cancer may develop to a stage that is more difficult to treat.

The long-term effects of delayed screening during the COVID-19 pandemic will not be known for some time. It will be important to continue monitoring the effects of this changing situation on cancer screening and other health services into the future.


Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2018. Analysis of cancer outcomes and screening behaviour for national cancer screening programs in Australia. Cancer series no. 111. Cat. no. CAN 115. Canberra: AIHW.