August marks the month of women, and today’s National Women’s Day (August 9th) commemorates the active role women played in South African history in protecting human rights. It is also an opportunity to raise awareness of important issues that women still face.
The Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) recognizes the collective power of women to make positive change and encourages women to unite in the importance of cancer prevention to them and to help prevent unnecessary loss of life.
CANSA encourages women to organize a cancer screening exam at their local CANSA Care Center and purchase a screening voucher for a loved one, friend, or co-worker.
CANSA service manager Gerda Strauss is of the opinion that women can have a positive influence on other women with regard to cancer screening.
“Too many women still die of cancer because they are not encouraged to know their own bodies. Be aware of the symptoms of cancer, use cancer screening or find out how you can reduce your personal cancer risk. Covid-19 has also led women who are aware of the importance of cancer screening to postpone it and avoid high-traffic health facilities. Cancer remains a reality, however, and early detection through screening can save lives. Is there a woman in your life who doesn’t know or can’t afford the importance of screening? Buy her a demonstration voucher and share your knowledge. “
The head of the clinical department of radiation oncology at Groote Schuur Hospital and the University of Cape Town, Dr. Zainab Mohamed, commented on the impact of the pandemic on cancer early detection and diagnosis.
“Covid-19 affects cancer services in many ways. It affects cancer screening. People cannot go to routine checkups because the hospitals are full, or those checkups have been postponed so that there are not too many people and to keep social distance. There are affected diagnoses. Many patients have been unable to go to their primary care physician, primary health facility, or secondary education because of lack of space. We were overrun by Covid-19. “
Strauss explained how CANSA can help. “There is no need to postpone cancer screening. CANSA offers screening through its CANSA Care Centers by appointment to avoid crowds and with strict security protocols to prevent the spread of Covid-19. An affordable small fee is charged to cover the cost of the equipment needed to conduct the screening. Patients with medical assistance can apply for medical assistance once they have paid for the screening. “
Screenings available for women include clinical breast exams (to look for breast lumps); Pap smears (liquid-based cervical cancer screening test for early detection); FotoFinder exams (mol-mapping dermoscope device for examining moles and spots on the skin) and a home occult fecal test kit (to indicate growth / inflammation / bleeding in the digestive system, possibly indicating colon cancer). Women are encouraged to purchase a screening voucher for a loved one, friend, or co-worker who may not be able to afford it, or to urge them to take advantage of the screenings offered.
According to 2017 statistics from the National Cancer Registry (NCR), breast, cervical, colon, uterine and lung cancers are the five most common cancers that affect women in South Africa. Both breast and cervical cancers are ranked as a national priority with increasing incidence. Aside from non-melanoma skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women of all races with a lifetime risk of 1 in 25 in South Africa, according to the National Cancer Registry (NCR) in 2017. Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in South African women, but it is the cancer that causes women to die the most. Women have a lifetime risk of 1 in 40 for cervical cancer (NCR 2017).
What women can do:
• Know Your Body – Watch for changes in your body and do regular self-exams: Report changes in your breasts and skin to a doctor.
• Know the Signs of Cancer – Read about the symptoms of cancer in women in South Africa on the CANSA website.
• Regular Cancer Screenings – Make an annual appointment at your local CANSA Care Center for a cancer screening exam or if you are concerned about a symptom.
• Share your knowledge – Empower other women by sharing your knowledge about cancer, prevention and reducing the risk of cancer. Buy a cancer screening voucher for another woman.
• Public Health Screening – Women are entitled to an annual clinical breast exam when attending primary health centers as defined by the National Health Department’s Breast Cancer Control Policy; and under the National Department of Health’s Cervical Cancer Prevention and Control Policy, women aged 30 and over are entitled to three free Pap smears in their life at 30, 40 and 50 years of age in public health clinics (with no symptoms). If women experience abnormal symptoms, they can request a Pap smear at local government clinics. HIV positive women are entitled to a Pap smear at diagnosis and every three years thereafter if cervical cancer is negative (annually if screening is positive).