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More Western Australians are being diagnosed with cancer than ever before.

There are a few reasons for the increase in cancer diagnoses. As WA grows to a population of over 2.8 million people, the number of diagnoses will also naturally increase. We are also now living longer (on average), which means we have an ageing population. The likelihood of developing cancer increases as we grow older.

We’ve also made advancements in population screening and are more actively looking for cancer. This means we are finding more cancers than before. However, because these cancers are usually found earlier, the chances of successful treatment is usually greater too.

There are two strategies that promote early detection of cancer: screening and early diagnosis.

  1. Screening programs for a type of cancer are provided to a specific group of people WITHOUT symptoms of that cancer.
  2. Early diagnosis is when people WITH symptoms that may be caused by a type of cancer, tell their healthcare provider as early as possible about those symptoms, so that tests can be done to check if they have cancer.

The image below shows this difference.

Image courtesy of World Health Organisation.

Both of these early detection strategies can help a cancer be diagnosed and treated at an earlier stage, before the cancer has progressed and possibly spread throughout the body. This makes the chance of survival and successful treatment greater.


Population screening is finding unrecognised cancer or pre-cancer in a group of people who have no symptoms that could be caused by cancer.

Cancer screening is an important way to detect cancer early. If found early, the cancer may be smaller, less likely to have spread to other parts of the body, and more treatment options may be available, meaning that there is a greater chance of successful treatment.

Cancer screening tests are usually targeted at a group of people who are at a higher risk of a particular type of cancer, to determine if they need to have further testing.

There are currently three free cancer screening programs available in Australia.

Important things to remember:

    • If you have any unusual symptoms go to your doctor, clinic nurse or Aboriginal health worker without delay. Don’t wait to participate in your next screening test as it could potentially delay diagnosis and treatment, resulting in a worse outcome.
    • Even if you participate in screening regularly, you 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 they can develop between screening tests.
    • Doing self-checks of your body can help detect some of the above symptoms (i.e., looking for unusual lumps on the body, or unusual spots on the skin). A good time to check is in the shower or bath.
    • Even if you feel fit and healthy, you should still look out for symptoms.