The Difference Between Early Symptom Detection and Screening

Why symptom detection/early diagnosis is important

Thousands of people are successfully treated for cancer every year. Treatment is most effective when cancer is found at an early stage. So finding cancer early can make a real difference.

The two main ways cancer is found early are early symptom detection and population screening:

Symptom detection/early diagnosis

This is the principle behind the Find Cancer Early program.

When people know the early symptoms to look out for and what to do if they notice something unusual, they can tell their doctor, clinic nurse or Aboriginal health worker early. This allows for any further tests to take place early, and if required, treatment can also start early to give the person the best chances of survival.

It is recommended that everyone, especially regional WA adults aged over 40 years, visit their doctor, clinic nurse or Aboriginal health worker every time they notice a possible symptom or unusual change in their body.

Population screening

Population cancer screening such as screening mammograms and Faecal Occult Blood Tests (home bowel cancer screening kits) are excellent methods for detecting early cancer in people who are not currently experiencing any symptoms. Cancer Council WA encourages people to participate in all cancer screening that they are eligible for, each time that they are eligible.

It is important to note that screening does not replace the need to be aware of possible early cancer symptoms and changes to your body. Likewise, a recent or upcoming screening test does not override the need to discuss any unusual symptoms with a health professional.

Remember, population screening is designed to detect early cancer in people who feel well and haven’t noticed any possible symptoms.

Bowel cancer screening

Bowel cancer screening kits are designed for people who do not have any noticeable symptoms of bowel cancer.

If you do not have any bowel cancer symptoms and you’re eligible, it is highly recommended you participate in the free National Bowel Cancer Screening Program for men and women aged 50-74.

If you do have possible bowel cancer symptoms, it’s highly recommend you see your doctor, clinic nurse or health worker without delay.

Remember, the earlier cancer is found, the better your chances of survival. So, make sure you participate in free screening at every opportunity and see your doctor, clinic nurse or health worker if you notice any unusual symptoms.

Breast cancer screening

Breast cancer screening or mammograms are designed for women who do not have any noticeable symptoms of breast cancer.

If you do not have any breast cancer symptoms and you’re eligible, it is recommended you participate in the free breast screening program for women aged over 40 years.

Women living in regional WA can access the BreastScreen WA mobile service which visits almost 100 rural towns every two years, with some towns receiving visits annually. To find out when the BreastScreen WA mobile service is visiting your town, visit the BreastScreen WA website.

If you do have possible breast cancer symptoms, it’s  highly recommended see your doctor, clinic nurse or health worker without delay.

Remember, the earlier cancer is found, the better your chances of survival. So, make sure you participate in free screening at every opportunity and see your doctor, clinic nurse or health worker if you notice any unusual symptoms.

Prostate specific antigen (PSA) test

The PSA test measures the levels of PSA found in the blood. Normally, PSA stays within the prostate. Blood levels of PSA increase if the prostate is damaged.

The current PSA test is not a suitable population screen test. Unfortunately, we don’t have reliable medical proof that routine population testing does more benefit (increased prostate cancer survival) than harm (treating people who don’t need treatment and side effects of treatments).

Early detection of symptoms can significantly improve prostate cancer treatment. Men considering being tested for prostate cancer should do so with information on both the benefits and harms of testing and treatment. We encourage men to speak to their doctor, or phone the Cancer Council WA cancer nurses on 13 11 20, so that they can make an informed choice about PSA testing.

Men experiencing possible prostate cancer symptoms should tell their doctor, clinic nurse or Aboriginal health worker without delay.