04 February 2019

How early cancer detection can save your life

Regular cancer screenings and self-examinations are recommended by oncologists.

In 2018 cancer was responsible for the deaths of 9.8 million people worldwide, making it the second leading cause of death behind heart disease.

According to the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), 100 000 South Africans are diagnosed with cancer every year. Of those, 60% survive the disease with the help of various treatments and medications.

Studies show that early detection allows for a higher survival rate.

Cancer can occur in various stages, ranging from stage 0, meaning there’s no cancer present, but with abnormal cell growth, to stage four, with cancerous cells having spread to other parts of the body.

Information is key

Cancerous cells can develop in almost all parts of the body, the most common being: breast, prostate, lung, skin and cervical cancer.

Clinical and radiation oncologist Dr Lee-Ann Jones says, “Information is key to the prevention and early detection of cancer. Regular screenings, self-examinations and the adoption of a healthy and positive lifestyle are the givens. Early identification of the disease will inevitably increase the potential for recovery.”

Family history

Knowing one’s medical family history is important. Cancer is a genetic disease, meaning changes occur in our genes that can result in the abnormal behaviour and multiplication of cells. This means it can be inherited from our parents and passed on to future generations.

Dr Jones notes that if there’s a history of cancer in your family, it is best to start checking in with your doctor on a regular basis as early as possible, do regular self-examinations and to go for regular screenings. It is suggested that women go for pap smears at least every three years, and once they reach the age of 40, yearly mammograms are recommended. For men, testicular examinations should take place at least once a year. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that people take note of symptoms that are out of the ordinary. These include sores and wounds that do not appear to be healing, lumps, abnormal bleeding, prolonged indigestion issues and persistent throat infections.

Image credit: iStock


Ask the Expert

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. For more information, visit

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