More Western Australian people are being diagnosed with cancer than ever before. But there are a few good reasons for the increase in diagnoses. First, there are more people in WA - the population of WA is now over 2.5 million. Also we are now living longer (on average) which means the population is getting older. Cancer is a disease of ageing, so the chance of being diagnosed with cancer increases as we get older. Finally, we are more actively looking for cancer, through early detection.
There are two strategies that promote early detection of cancer:
1. Screening: identifying unrecognized cancer or pre-cancer in a population of apparently healthy people (those without symptoms). In Australia, we have three national screening programs, breast, cervical and bowel.
2. Symptom awareness and early diagnosis: recognizing symptoms of cancer at the earliest possible opportunity and being diagnosed and treated without delay. In Western Australia, we have a community symptom awareness campaign called Find Cancer Early. It educates about the five most common cancer symptoms and encourages people to visit their GP, clinic nurse or Aboriginal health worker straight away if they have any symptoms.
The following image helps to distinguish the difference between screening and symptom awareness/early diagnosis.
Image courtesy of World Health Organisation.
Both early detection strategies can help a cancer be treated at a potentially curable stage, improving survival and quality of life.
Now that we understand the difference it is important to highlight:
•a person with symptoms shouldn't wait to participate in their next screening test as it could potentially delay diagnosis and treatment, resulting in a worse outcome. They should go to their GP, clinic nurse or Aboriginal health worker without delay.
• even if a person participates in screening regularly, they should still look out for symptoms in between screening tests. Cancers can sometimes be missed by screening tests (as they are not 100% accurate) or can develop after a screening test.
• even if a person feels fit and healthy they should still look out for symptoms