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About the national cancer screening programs

Positive test results from cancer screening

Learn more about positive cancer screening test results

Although your project may be promoting national cancer screening programs, if someone in your community does require further follow-up, it’s good to have an idea of what will happen next and refer them back to their doctor.

A positive screening result does not necessarily mean cancer, but it’s really important to get further testing as soon as possible.

Positive Faecal Occult Blood Test

The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, uses the Faecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT), a simple test that can be done at home and looks for hidden traces of blood in a bowel motion in people without symptoms. It can help detect bowel cancer in its early stages.

A positive FOBT result means blood has been detected in the sample. About one in 14 people will have a positive FOBT result. Bleeding may be caused by a number of conditions, including polyps, haemorrhoids or inflammation, and in many cases may not be cancer related. However further investigation is needed, and people are advised to visit their doctor to discuss results.

The doctor will likely advise you on important follow-up tests for the positive FOBT, such as a colonoscopy to establish the cause of bleeding. The Victorian State Government has funded public hospitals to ensure timely access to colonoscopy for National Bowel Cancer Screening Program participants with a positive FOBT result.

Colonoscopy involves a long, thin, flexible tube with a video camera lens on the end, enabling a specialist to look inside the bowel. If a polyp or bowel cancer is found, it can be removed during the procedure. Colonoscopy is usually performed under sedation as day procedure. It is also used as a surveillance test for people at increased risk of bowel cancer.

For more information on colonoscopy visit Cancer Council Australia website.

Positive Cervical Screening Test

The National Cervical Screening Program uses the Cervical Screening Test to look for the presence of Human Papillomavirus (HPV). HPV causes almost all cervical cancers and the body can clear most infections naturally. If the Cervical Screening Test shows HPV is present, it does not mean it's cervical cancer. A HPV infection takes decades to develop into cervical cancer and this is a rare outcome. If the results come back positive for HPV types 16 or 18, further testing is needed. If results are positive for HPV types other than 16 and 18, a repeat test may be required in 12 months, as the infection is likely to be cleared by the body. The repeat test checks if the infection has gone and if so, it’s safe to return to five-yearly screening. If the repeat test shows a HPV infection is still present, further investigation from a specialist is required.

Further tests usually include a colposcopy. A colposcopy is performed by a specialist and identifies where abnormal cells are located in the cervix, and what they look like. A speculum is inserted into the vagina so the specialist can view the cervix using a colposcope, an instrument that magnifies the area, like binoculars. If required the specialist may take a biopsy, and remove tissue is removed from the surface of the cervix and sent to a laboratory for examination. The biopsy may be done during the colposcopy.

For more information on cervical screening and colposcopy visit the National Cervical Screening Program.

Positive Mammogram

BreastScreen Australia is the national screening program for breast cancer. BreastScreen Australia uses mammography screening to find breast cancers early, before they can be seen or felt. A mammogram is an X-ray picture of the breast.

Sometimes women will be asked to come back to BreastScreen for more tests. This does not mean breast cancer is present, but sometimes more tests are needed to make sure. This happens more often for women having a mammogram for the first time. This is usually because there are no other mammograms to compare with. Most women who are called back for further tests do not have breast cancer.

Visit the BreastScreen website on what follow up is required if someone has a positive mammogram result. Further testing such as further mammograms, ultrasound or biopsy of breast tissue may be required.

Cancer Council support services

Cancer Council Victoria provides a range of free information and support services to help you manage the impact of cancer. You can speak with an experienced and understanding Cancer Council nurse for a confidential conversation about anything cancer-related. You can also talk to them about positive screening results and what to expect next.

This may include:

  • access to information
  • connect with support services for financial, legal, workplace, transport, and accommodation
  • respite needs
  • find out about one-on-one or group support from others who’ve been through similar experiences (over the phone, online or in person).

You can access these services whether you have cancer, have had it in the past, or are concerned about your cancer risk. Family, friends and colleagues are welcome to call for information and support. Call 13 11 20 or email a Cancer Council nurse to find out more.