What is screening?
Screening involves having a test for cancer when you don’t have any symptoms. It’s a great way of detecting some cancers early, when there’s a much better chance of treatment. It is recommended for specific groups where we know that there is a definite benefit. They are:
- Women 50 -69 years of age should attend mammographic screening for breast cancer every two years
- Women 18 -70 years of age should have a Pap test for cancer of the cervix every two years
- Men and women 50 years and over should test for bowel cancer using a Bowel cancer testing kit once a year
- Individuals who have a mother, father, sister or brother who has had cancer should see their doctor to discuss their individual risk.
Chris O’Brien Lifehouse provides cancer screening and cancer exclusion services.
Have you found a breast lump or are you worried about other symptoms? Click to find out more about our breast clinic and how to be referred.
Are you worried about lumps, swellings or other symptoms around your mouth, salivary glands, nose, tongue or throat? Click to find out about our Head and Neck Clinic and how to be referred.
The Rapid Access Endoscopy (RAE) service based at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse is a streamlined cancer screening and cancer exclusion service (gastroscopy and colonoscopy). This service minimises harmful waiting times and test related anxiety by delivering diagnostic procedures within one to two weeks of referral.
A Gastroscopy is an examination of the upper digestive tract (the oesophagus, stomach and duodenum) using an endoscope — a long, thin, flexible tube containing a camera and a light — to view the lining of these organs.
A colonoscopy is an examination of the colon (large intestine or large bowel) for signs of bowel cancer or polyps.
To detect cancer early there are two things you can do
- Have a check-up. See your doctor promptly if you notice any changes.
- Attend a screening program if it’s recommended for you.
Why should I have a check up and when?
Most cancers can be detected in the early stages, when they’re easier to treat if the symptoms are noticed.
It is important for people of all ages to have a check up from your GP when you notice anything unusual or have any concerns. Know what is normal for you so that you can quickly identify when there are changes.
Things to look out for are:
- Lumps or sores that don’t heal (like an ulcer in your mouth)
- Coughs or hoarseness that won’t go away
- Unexplained weight loss
- A mole or skin spot that changes shape, size or colour
- Changes in your toilet habits
What is screening and is it for me?
Screening is not recommended for everyone. It involves having a test for cancer when you don’t have any symptoms. It’s a great way of detecting some cancers early, when there’s a much better chance of treatment. It is recommended for specific groups where we know that there is a definite benefit. They are:
- Women 50 – 69 years of age should have a mammogram for breast cancer every two years
- Women 18 – 70 years of age should have a pap test for cancer of the cervix every two years
- Men and women 50 years and over should test for bowel cancer using a bowel cancer testing kit once a year
- Individuals who have a mother, father, sister or brother who has had cancer should see their doctor to discuss their individual risk
What should I do if I am worried about a specific cancer?
If you have any concerns or if you have a family history see your doctor to identify your own risk.
Source: NSW Cancer Council
BreastScreen NSW is a free breast screening service for women aged 50 to 74 years. This government-funded service aims to detect breast cancer in its early stages, when treatment can be most effective. Local screening services are located at:
Sydney Local Health District
- Mobile screening vans that tour the area
South Western Sydney Local Health District
- Mobile screening vans that tour the area
The program targets women aged 50 to 74 years because this is the range where mammographic screening is most effective in saving lives. For this reason, BreastScreen NSW only sends reminder letters to women in this age range.
Women aged 40 to 49 and 74 years and over are eligible to attend for screening and are welcome to phone for an appointment.
To make a booking for a free screening mammogram with BreastScreen NSW, women should call the national screening number 13 20 50.
For further information, please visit the BreastScreen NSW website
What are the differences between a screening mammogram and a diagnostic mammogram?
A screening mammogram is a breast x-ray test for women who do not have any breast symptoms (ie. asymptomatic or well women).
- Screening mammograms do not require a doctor’s referral.
- Some women need to have additional tests at one of our assessment clinics because their x-rays show changes in their breasts.
- Such tests may include additional breast x-rays (diagnostic mammograms), and ultrasound and breast examination.
- Most women (9 out of 10) who are asked to return for further tests do not have breast cancer.
A diagnostic mammogram is used as one of the tests for investigating breast changes in women with symptoms (symptomatic women).
- These symptoms may include a lump, persistent pain, discharge from the nipple, changes in the shape or size of a breast or any other unusual changes.
- A diagnostic mammogram may incur a cost and requires a doctor’s referral to a private or public radiology practice.
- Diagnostic mammograms are not offered by the BreastScreen NSW program, except as part of further assessment following a screening mammogram that shows an abnormal area.
How do I know women are receiving the best possible service when they attend BreastScreen NSW for a screening mammogram?
The BreastScreen NSW screening and assessment services undergoes a rigorous accreditation process every two to four years.
The radiographers are all female and have been specially trained in taking screening mammograms. After a very thorough investigation including a top and side view of each breast, the x-rays are read by two radiologists (independently of one another). If there is a difference of opinion, a third read will take place to determine the result.
There is no difference in the quality of mammograms taken at a mobile screening unit and those taken at a fixed unit. Performance at all sites are assessed against the same rigorous national standards.
The removal of cells or tissues for examination by a pathologist. The pathologist may study the tissue under a microscope or perform other tests on the cells or tissue. There are many different types of biopsy procedures. The most common types include:
- incisional biopsy, in which only a sample of tissue is removed
- excisional biopsy, in which an entire lump or suspicious area is removed
- needle biopsy, in which a sample of tissue or fluid is removed with a needle. When a wide needle is used, the procedure is called a core biopsy. When a thin needle is used, the procedure is called a fine-needle aspiration biopsy.
A blood test is a laboratory analysis performed on a blood sample that is usually extracted from a vein in the arm using a needle, or via fingerprick.
A technique to create images of bones on a computer screen or on film. A small amount of radioactive material is injected into a blood vessel and travels through the bloodstream; it collects in the bones and is detected by a scanner.
An x-ray of the structures inside the chest. An x-ray is a type of high-energy radiation that can go through the body and onto film, making pictures of areas inside the chest, which can be used to diagnose disease.
A series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body taken from different angles. The pictures are created by a computer linked to an x-ray machine. Also called CAT scan, computed tomography scan, computerised axial tomography scan, and computerised tomography.
An x-ray of the breast.
A procedure in which radio waves and a powerful magnet linked to a computer are used to create detailed pictures of areas inside the body. These pictures can show the difference between normal and diseased tissue. MRI makes better images of organs and soft tissue than other scanning techniques, such as computed tomography (CT) or x-ray. MRI is especially useful for imaging the brain, the spine, the soft tissue of joints, and the inside of bones. Also called magnetic resonance imaging, NMRI, and nuclear magnetic resonance imaging.
A procedure in which a small amount of radioactive glucose (sugar) is injected into a vein, and a scanner is used to make detailed, computerised pictures of areas inside the body where the glucose is used. Because cancer cells often use more glucose than normal cells, the pictures can be used to find cancer cells in the body. Also called positron emission tomography scan.
An examination of the body to check for general signs of disease.
A procedure in which high-energy sound waves are bounced off internal tissues or organs and make echoes. The echo patterns are shown on the screen of an ultrasound machine, forming a picture of body tissues called a sonogram. Also called ultrasonography.
The National Cancer Institute provides a comprehensive dictionary of cancer terms.
The Cancer Genetic Service provides information to individuals and their family where there is concern about the family history of cancer.
If there is an increased risk of cancer for family members, strategies to reduce the chance of cancer developing and methods of detecting it early are discussed. An appropriate cancer screening program is advised.
Sometimes genetic testing is possible to help assess the risk of cancer more accurately. This is offered with genetic counselling to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of genetic testing for the person and their family.
Family members who are affected by cancer and those who have not been affected are able to attend for advice.
An appointment with the Cancer Genetic Service can be arranged by sending a referral by either:
Fax: (02) 9515 5278
Mail: Cancer Genetics Service
Royal Prince Alfred Hospital
Once the referral has been received, a member of the Cancer Genetic Service will contact the person to ask about their family history and then arrange a clinic appointment.