Victoria has some of the best cancer survival rates in the world. As indicated in the current Victorian Cancer Plan, overall five-year survival rates for cancer steadily increased from 49 per cent in 1989–93, to 67 per cent in 2009–13. This trend is consistent across the most common types of cancer (including prostate, bowel, breast and lung), and reflects treatment advances, as well as successes of screening programs to increase early detection.
Every Victorian should understand their risk of cancer and be supported to manage their own health. Assessing risks, screening and early detection of cancer enables prompt action, early diagnosis and better outcomes.
Early detection happens through organised population screening – programs such as the breast, bowel and cervical cancer screening programs seek to detect early signs of disease, either before a cancer has developed or in its early stages before any symptoms occur, when early interventions can be most successful.
Improvements in incidence and mortality rates through organised cancer screening programs depend on participation of the target age group. In Victoria, participation rates in the breast and cervical cancer screening programs remain steady. However, improvements can be made for the bowel cancer screening program, which is low at 43.2 per cent.
Why screening programs are funded particularly in priority communities
The Department of Health and Human Services is responsible for overseeing the three national cancer screening programs in Victoria:
- breast cancer screening
- cervical cancer screening
- bowel cancer screening.
The department has a focus on equity in screening participation. Across all cancer screening programs, there are population groups that have lower participation rates, notably Aboriginal people, culturally and linguistically diverse communities, people experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage and people living in some specific local government areas. Since the introduction of the Under-screened Program in 2009, there has been a significant focus on increasing participation in cancer screening programs by under-screened groups, with a focus on making the programs more accessible by responding to health literacy needs, developing new partnerships and improving service delivery. In recent years, the number of Aboriginal women screened by BreastScreen Victoria has increased by over 10 per cent annually.
The key priorities in screening
Victorians should know their risk and have cancers detected earlier. The priorities include:
- equitable and increased cancer participation in population cancer screening programs
- culturally appropriate, acceptable and responsive cancer screening services
- access to high quality cancer screening services in a timely manner
- availability of robust data to drive screening system monitoring and surveillance.
Cancer screening programs look for early signs of the disease or indications that a person is more likely to develop the disease in the future. In most cases early detection of cancer increases the chances of successful treatment, and detecting and treating precursors to cancer can prevent the cancer from developing at all.