Cervical Cancer

Updated 25 May 2015

Cancer in South Africa - who gets what and why?

One in six South African men and one in seven South African women will get cancer during their lives. Cancer can strike anyone at any time.

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One in six South African men and one in seven South African women will get cancer during their lives. Cancer can strike anyone at any time. And yet, if one takes a look at South African statistics, age, race, gender and socio-economic status play an important part in determining the prevalence of particular cancers.

Cancer and the South African woman

The cancers affecting all South African women, in order of prevalence, are:

  • Breast cancer;
  • Cervical cancer;
  • Colo-rectal cancer;
  • Lung cancer;
  • Oesophageal cancer;

Certain cancers are more prevalent amongst black South African women. They are, in order of prevalence:

  • Cervical cancer;
  • Breast cancer;
  • Oesophageal cancer;
  • Uterine cancer;
  • Lung cancer;

Cancer and the South African man

The cancers affecting all South African men, in order of prevalence, are:

  • Prostate cancer;
  • Lung cancer;
  • Oesophageal cancer;
  • Bladder cancer;
  • Colo-rectal cancer;

The cancers more prevalent amongst black men are:

  • Oesophageal cancer;
  • Prostate cancer;
  • Lung cancer;
  • Liver cancer;
  • Cancer of the Larynx;
  • (Statistics provided by the Cancer Association of South Africa)

Cancer and the South African child

The cancers most prevalent amongst South African children follows a worldwide trend, according to the Cancer Association of South Africa:

  • Leukemia (24 %);
  • Brain cancer (21 %);
  • Lymphomas (16 %);
  • Wilm's tumour (cancer of the kidney) (10 %);
  • And neuroblastoma, a cancer of the sympathic nervous system.
The latest research indicate that some or most of the cancers in kids might have originated before birth, and that they are born with cancer. Wilm's tumor is regarded as a congenital cancer.

Lifestyle and diet as causal factors

According to Dr Carl Albrecht, cancer specialist and coordinator of research of the Cancer Association of South Africa, 80% of cancers can be prevented if people were to adhere to three simple rules:

  • Stay out of the sun;
  • Eat healthy food including lots of fruit and vegetable;
  • Stop smoking.

White Australians and South Africans have the highest incidence of skin cancer in the world, but 90 percent of all skin cancers are curable - if detected early.

According to the Cancer Association of South Africa, black people living in rural areas have a high incidence of oesophageal cancer as a result of their traditional diet, which contains very little fibre, and home-brewed beer contaminated with fungi. Other problems are cooking methods used, grain storage methods and a high consumption of home-brewed beer contaminated with fungi. The incidence of these cancers become much lower if people move to the cities where fresh fruit and vegetables are more readily available.

Smoking and drinking also appear to play a major factor in the incidence of cancer. As more and more women have become smokers in recent decades, so the incidence of lung cancer has risen amongst them. While breast cancer appears to be oestrogen-related in some way, it has also been noticed that a fair percentage of women who develop breast cancer consume fair amounts of alcohol.

Genetic factors also play a role, according to Dr Albrecht. It does sometimes happen that healthy young people who get exercise, eat healthily, stay out of the sun, don't smoke and don't drink, get cancer. To a certain degree, it remains a mysterious disease, but one, if detected early, can mostly be sorted out by means of the right medical attention.

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Cancer expert

CANSA’s purpose is to lead the fight against cancer in South Africa. Its mission is to be the preferred non-profit organisation that enables research, educates the public and provides support to all people affected by cancer. Questions are answered by CANSA’s Head of Health Professor Michael Herbst and Head of Advocacy Magdalene Seguin. For more information, visit cansa.org.za.

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