Creating awareness about breast and cervical cancer

Breast cancer survivors hold up breast prosthesis wrapped up for safe keeping.

The Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) supports the National Department of Health’s efforts to prioritise awareness of breast and cervical cancer and to educate women with knowledge of symptoms, screening opportunities and lowering cancer risk.

In August, in line with its 365 Day Health Challenge, Cansa encourages women to get screened and to proactively share this on every available platform, including social media, encouraging and challenging other women to get screened.

Breast cancer is the most common among South African women with a lifetime risk of 1 in 27, according to the 2014 National Cancer Registry (NCR). Cervical cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths and the second most commonly diagnosed cancer (excluding basal cell carcinoma) among women. The estimated life-time risk among all women in South Africa is 1:42.

Research has shown that a limited knowledge of symptoms, as well as misconceptions, stigma and shame around cancer and screening, especially cervical cancer, cause delays in women going for screening or seeking appropriate care.

Gerda Strauss, Cansa’s head of service delivery, emphasises the importance of screening and early detection “We urge women to get to know what is normal for their bodies, so that when they do a monthly breast self-examination (BSE), they may detect any changes, signs and symptoms of breast cancer. Get to know the warning signs and symptoms. We’re excited to share an educational video that shows women how to perform a breast self-examination, it’s available on our website and social media platforms from Friday August 9 (Women’s Day).

“Women who recognise these symptoms should urgently contact Cansa, a health practitioner or their local clinic for a clinical breast examination. Women who have no symptoms of breast cancer should request an annual clinical breast examination when visiting primary health care centres as it’s their right, as per the national Department of Health Breast Cancer Control Policy. Women with a family history of breast cancer should be especially aware of symptoms and not neglect screening,” added Ms Strauss.

Cansa’s support to cancer patients also includes medical equipment hire, wigs, counselling, support groups, online support groups and resources and Cansa Care Homes where patients receiving treatment far from home can stay during treatment. Cansa also offers professional fitting services and full range of breast prostheses, bras, swimwear and lymphoedema garments at Cansa Care Centres nationally via its partnership with M Store, which fit and supply bras, breast prostheses and lymphoedema garments to women who have had breast surgery as a result of breast cancer.

Cansa advocates a mammogram every year for all women from age 40 to 54 for purposes of non-symptomatic breast screening (women 55 years and older, should have a mammogram every two years – or if they choose, continue with an annual mammogram).

Most cervical cancers are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV), making it one of the most preventable cancers when the HPV vaccination is implemented appropriately.

“The vaccination is safe and most effective when given at an early age (9 years and older) or before sexual debut. In SA the HPV vaccination was approved by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority in February 2008 for its efficacy. “All women should go for Pap smears at least every three years, from the age of 25, to detect abnormal cells early. However, women are entitled to and can request screening at a younger age. Women making use of public sector screening services are entitled to three free Pap smears per lifetime, starting at the age of 30 years or older, with a 10-year interval between each smear. If women experience abnormal symptoms, they can request a Pap smear at local government clinics. Cansa provides Pap smear screening at Cansa Care Centres around the country,” Ms Strauss said.

HIV infected women are at an increased risk for HPV infection at an earlier age (13 to 18 years). Those who are HIV positive should be, and are entitled to be, screened for cervical cancer at diagnosis and subsequently every three years if the screening test is negative and at yearly intervals if the screening test is positive.

For more information, contact Cansa on their toll-free number 0800 22 66 22, call 021 689 5381 (8am to 4.30pm weekdays), WhatsApp to 072 197 9305 (English and Afrikaans), WhatsApp to 071 867 3530 (Xhosa, Zulu, Sotho and Siswati) or email