Frank, honest conversations about cancer, instead of denialism, can help save lives, says KZN Health MEC

  • Head-in-the-sand" approach will not help wish away cancer, let's educate ourselves about it;
  • Self-examination for breast lumps can be effective in detecting breast cancer early;
  • Women aged 30 and above are urged to get a Pap Smear, once every 10 years to prevent the onset of cancer of the cervix;
  • Those living with HIV are at increased risk of cervical cancer, and are advised to undergo a Pap Smear once every three years

04 February 2023

KwaZulu-Natal Health MEC Ms Nomagugu Simelane has urged women to take it upon themselves to learn more about cancer, because while it cannot simply be wished away, it always poses a lingering health threat - and when detected too late, it is deadly.

As World Cancer Day is being commemorated across the globe today, under the theme #CloseTheCareGap, according to the National Cancer Registry (2017), one in 26 women in South Africa is at risk of developing breast cancer; while 16% of cancer deaths are attributed to breast cancer.

Cervical cancer, meanwhile, affects 1 in 40 women, and is said to kill up to 3500 women per year in South Africa.

Along with breast cancer, and cervical cancer, colorectal cancer (cancer of the colon, and cancer of the rectum), lung cancer, as well as prostate cancer complete the top 5 most common cancers in South Africa.

Facts about breast cancer:

Early detection of cancer can lead to effective treatment and a positive prognosis. About 90% of patients survive for many years after diagnosis when breast cancer is detected during its early stages.

Regular self-breast examination is key to early detection. Mammograms are recommended for women who have particular risk factors for breast cancer, such as a family history of breast cancer in a first degree relative (mother, sister or daughter).

Cervical cancer, which is mainly caused by the Human Papillomavirus, is the fourth most common cancer among women globally, with an estimated 604 000 new cases and 342 000 deaths in 2020, according to the World Health Organisation. But in South Africa it is the second most common cancer in women and kills more women than any other cancer, because too often it is detected late. This is a situation that can be changed, because cancer of the cervix is easily preventable through Pap Smear screening.

Pap Smears detect abnormal changes in the cells of cervix before they become cancerous. This means that that women can be referred for treatment to remove the abnormal cells through a minor surgical procedure using a Large Loop Excision of the Transformation Zone (LLETZ) machine.

That is why it is vital that eligible women should attend a health facility for their Pap Smear, as prevention is much easier than treating the cancer when the abnormal cells eventually become cancerous.

Men aged 50 and above, and those aged 45 and above who have a history of prostate cancer in the family, are encouraged to get screened and tested for prostate cancer.

Patients who notice possible symptoms of cancer are urged to visit their nearest Primary Healthcare Clinic, where they will be screened and referred to the appropriate higher-level healthcare institution for testing and further management.

The three most common treatments for cancer are surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. These may be applied on their own or in combination with one another, by a multi-disciplinary team of healthcare professionals.

Presenting yourself early for treatment may result in more effective cancer treatment, leading to a reduction in pain and suffering and a significant decrease in the loss of life.

Speaking on her Department's weekly multimedia programme KZN Health Chat near Port Shepstone yesterday, MEC Simelane said the time had come for society to acknowledge the serious threat posed by cancer, and stop thinking that it can be wished away, or that by merely not talking about it, it will not pounce.

One of the show's guests, Ugu district-based gynaecologist Dr Thandekile Khumalo urged women aged 30 and above to get a Pap Smear.

"If you experience abnormal bleeding, or you bleed after sexual intercourse, or if you bleed long after menopause, we call on you to visit your nearest clinic and seek help, so you can be examined. If you have any discharge that seems abnormal, do not rush and start using herbal cures and start inserting things down there. Help is at hand. Come and speak to us."

Dr Khumalo added: “Those who are HIV positive... if your Pap Smear results are normal, you must undergo a Pap Smear every three years. Those who’re not HIV positive, from the age of 30, we invite them to come and get a Pap Smear, and after 10 years thereafter, until the age of 50."

MEC Simelane urged women, in particular, reiterated the need for women to find ways to arm themselves with information, and make sure that their children get to know about cancer from a young age.

"This will ensure that when there's a sudden change to the breast, for instance, they're able to see it early enough. We're therefore urging women to encourage their girl children, and daughters-in-law - and women themselves – to become more aware of cancer.

People should not be dying or getting severely ill because many of these cancers are easier to treat when detected early enough.

MEC Simelane cautioned women to be careful of misinformation, especially when it comes to complex diseases such as cancer.

There are lots of 'experts' out there, and we call on people to stop being in denial, but also not to listen to all the misinformation that's out there.

"Those that are younger, let’s teach them right at an early age that they must self-test, become more conscious, and find out more about diseases such as cancer and talk about it. Once we do that, it will be ingrained in them, and they will continue doing that with other generations to come, and breast cancer will not be a problem to women anymore.

"The most difficult thing is that cancer affects poor women. And it affects them not because it's able to sniff out who's poor and who's not, but because sometimes poor women are not able to focus on their health… they don’t have information, and they’re too busy trying to eke out a living. So, we have a responsibility to talk to them and be able to get them to come out to get screened and tested.

"So, our message is, 'don't be afraid of the cancer.' It is not a killer if it's detected early enough. As soon as you're able to pick it up, it can be successfully treated. You just need to find it on time."

Issued by the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health

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This page last edited on 11 July, 2023

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