Understanding cancer

Understanding cancer

Cancer is not one disease, but many. It’s the name given to more than 200 different conditions, each with its own name and treatment.

Information to help you understand more about cancer:

Cancer screening

Cancer screening is testing for cancer or precancerous changes in people who don’t have symptoms. This can help find cancer early when there is a better chance of treatment and cure.

National screening programs are available in Australia for several cancers:

  • breast cancer Women aged 50–74 should have a mammogram every two years. Call BreastScreen NSW on 13 20 50 to book a free mammogram or visit breastscreen.nsw.gov.au
  • bowel cancer Bowel cancer testing kits, known as faecal occult blood tests or FOBTs, can find microscopic blood in a bowel motion that may indicate there is a problem. Many people aged 50 and older who hold a Medicare or Department of Veterans’ Affairs card are automatically sent a free FOBT kit as part of the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program. For more information about the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, call 1800 118 868 or visit cancerscreening.gov.au.
  • cervical cancer The best way to detect precancerous changes and early cervical cancer is to have regular screening tests – a Pap test or the new HPV test, which will be available in 2017. From December 2017, women aged 25–74 will be tested for HPV every 5 years instead. Evidence has found that screening women for HPV is a more effective way of preventing cervical cancer. For more information call 13 15 56 or visit cancerscreening.gov.au.

There is no national screening program for the early detection of prostate cancer. Doctors have different opinions about whether all men without symptoms of prostate cancer should be tested. Finding prostate cancer early outlines these reasons.

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Support services

Coping with cancer?
Speak to a health professional or to someone who has been there, or find a support group or forum

Cancer Council Online Community
A community forum – a safe place to share stories, get tips and connect with people who understand

Cancer information

Dealing with the diagnosis
Common reactions to a cancer diagnosis and how to find hope

View our publications
Guides and fact sheets for people with cancer, their families and friends