Helderberg Hospital encourages women to prioritise their cervical health
Helderberg Hospital was a place buzzing with excitement this September as its staff and patients commemorated a memorable cervical cancer awareness campaign. They capped off the campaign with an important message, “cervical cancer is curable if diagnosed and treated early”.
Increasing screening and prevention are key components of the efforts to eradicate cervical cancer, which is the second most commonly diagnosed after breast cancer among South African women. Screening aims to detect types of human papillomavirus (HPV) associated with cervical abnormalities and cancer. Early detection allows preventative treatment, so cancer does not develop.
Spearheading the cervical cancer awareness efforts was the hospital’s Obstetrics and Gynaecology Department under the guidance of the hospital CEO, Ms Sharon Leo. Their contributions saw all eligible staff and patients offered screening for cervical cancer, the colposcopy clinic treating patients with abnormal PAP smears, patients suspected of cervical cancer referred to Tygerberg Hospital for further management, and all staff encouraged to wear teal ribbons. The hospital also conducted staff “pap smear” screening drives every Friday, decorated the facility with awareness posters, and encouraged employees to participate in an electronic quiz to create awareness about cervical cancer with a lucky draw taking place at the end of September.
This was the first time the Obstetrics and Gynaecology Department ran an awareness campaign for cervical cancer in the last decade, said Dr Esther Naidoo, Head of Department, Family Physician. “We identified that amongst all levels of staff there was a great gap in basic knowledge surrounding the topic. We used posters, word of mouth and an electronic quiz to create awareness but more importantly educate staff and patients alike on the basic information related to cervical cancer.”
The organisers of the cervical cancer awareness campaign. From left to right: Dr Elzanne Olivier (Specialist Obstetrician Gynaecologist), Sr Marilyn Carstens (Advanced midwife), Dr Esther Naidoo (Head of Department, Family Physician), Dr Rob Leventis (Senior Medical Officer), Dr Aimee Hangone (Family Medicine Registrar), Dr Gabby Jacob's (Family Medicine Registrar).
“We hope that this campaign will motivate staff first and foremost to look after their own cervical health, and create necessary awareness surrounding who and when screening should occur so that we can hopefully identify precancerous lesions early enough to institute management before it progresses to cancer,” said Dr Naidoo.
The hospital’s colposcopy clinic is a specialist outreach clinic from Tygerberg Hospital that sees approximately 10-15 patients every second week. Patients are referred based on the finding of an abnormal pap smear result. The procedure entails a clinical assessment, informed consent, examination with a microscope of the cervix and then treatment Large Loop Excision of the Transformation Zone (LLETZ) or ablation as indicated.
“More recently, with the appointment of a sessional Obstetrician Gynecologist, we have been able to assist with additional colposcopies which is vital in the fight against cervical cancer. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the colposcopy clinic closed for approximately six months as the doctors at Tygerberg Hospital we reassigned to work in the COVID wards and there was no staff to accommodate the outreach service. This significantly increased waiting times to be seen at the clinic. We are working actively with Tygerberg Hospital and the local team to decrease the waiting times and work through the backlog,” said Dr Naidoo.
The World Health Organization (WHO) global strategy for cervical cancer elimination calls for 70% of women globally to be screened regularly for cervical disease with a high-performance test, and for 90% of those needing it to receive appropriate treatment. To encourage more women to undergo cervical screening, Dr Naidoo shares the following advice:
- Precancerous lesions of the cervix usually has no symptoms. Women are therefore encouraged to screen every 10 years from age 30. The screening is quick and painless albeit uncomfortable but well worth it because it is an effective tool to pick up those at risk for the development of cancer.
- Know the danger symptoms and signs of cervical cancer – abnormal vaginal bleeding between periods, continuous vaginal discharge, abnormal menstrual periods, vaginal bleeding after menopause, abnormal urinary symptoms; and go to your nearest primary healthcare facility for assessment if you have these symptoms.
- Vaccination for the prevention of HPV infection and cervical cancer is available is the state sector. Speak to the local school nurse or your nearest primary healthcare facility for more information or to arrange vaccinations for those who qualify.
- Although we still find ourselves in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic general health and wellbeing cannot be neglected. Those who qualify must and should be screened or we will be left with a pandemic of poorly controlled chronic disease and advanced incurable cancer long after we have beaten this pandemic.
Byron la Hoe
072 368 0596