Cervical cancer Awareness Month | Western Cape Government



Cervical cancer Awareness Month

8 September 2005
"Cervical Cancer, despite being a preventable disease, causes a significant amount of illness and is the leading cause of death due to cancer amongst South African women. It has been a challenge in South Africa to encourage the women to come forward for screening, as most of the women are not aware of this preventable killer disease", says Health Minister, Pierre Uys.

Although all sexually active women are at risk, the disease is much more common in women of 50 years old and above as cancer of the cervix takes a long time to develop (between 10 -20years). It can be prevented if the pre-cancerous lesions are discovered on time through screening (Pap smear).

To prevent women from getting cancer, government clinics offer Pap smear services to all the women above the ages of thirty, every 10 years. Each and every woman should have 3 pap smears in a lifetime. This low frequency level is to ensure that everybody at risk has access to the Pap smear. HIV positive women, however, need Pap smears every year as the lesions tend to be more aggressive. It usually takes four weeks for the results to come back to the clinic.

Although a Pap smear is a very simple test, the majority of women are scared of the test. It is uncomfortable but not painful. Besides detecting the cancer lesions, Pap smear tests can detect infection, which can be treated at clinics. A Pap smear does not increase fertility, but when women have an infection they may not be able to conceive, once they get treated for infection the chances of conceiving are very high. All clinics provide family planning services which women could access for contraceptives. Condoms are freely available for prevention of pregnancy, HIV and sexually transmitted diseases.

A Pap smear is the cornerstone for the prevention of cervical cancer. Screened health care workers can be good advocates for a screening programme. Although September is cervical cancer awareness month, awareness should not be limited to this month, says Uys.

Women can make an appointment for screening at their nearest health facility. Women can tell their friends about cervical cancer as the cervical health message needs to be spread. Women should encourage their friends and family to check their cervical health status while men should encourage the women in their lives to do the same.

"We must never forget that cervical cancer is a preventable disease," says Uys.

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Herman vd Westhuizen
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