Cervical cancer (a disease that kills more than 3 400 South African women each year) can be eradicated within this century if all young women are vaccinated in time.
This is the Cancer Association of South Africa's (CANSA) message for the month of September, Cervical Health Month.
"CANSA welcomes the registration of two new cervical cancer vaccines as an effective way to prevent cervical cancer," says Martha Molete, head of communication at CANSA.
Price a barrier
Currently the vaccines - which protect against certain strains of the the human papillomavirus (HPV), the main cause of cervical cancer - are only available in the private sector. Each vaccine costs over R2 100 for the three injections needed. The recommended age for vaccination, according to the manufacturers, is for girls between nine and 26 and boys between nine and 18.
CANSA says that in order to be accessible, the vaccines need to be affordable and part of the government immunisation programme.
"Even if every child has a vaccine, the need for Pap smears and HPV screening for those who did not get the vaccine, will need to continue for decades in order to help detect cervical cancer early," Molete says.
Have you had a Pap smear lately?
CANSA encourages all sexually active women to go for regular Pap smears in order to detect any abnormal cells in the cervix that could develop into cervical cancer.
For Cervical Health Month, CANSA is running a number of campaigns and activities. This year's theme is "Care for the woman in your life. Has she gone for a Pap smear?" Everyone must check that their wife/partner, mother, sister, grandmother and adult daughter have all gone for Pap smears.
More about cervical cancer
The cervix is located at the mouth of the uterus or womb and is connected to the vagina. The cervical tissue is very sensitive and susceptible to infection.
Many sexually active South African women have been exposed to HPV, which is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI).
Factors that increase a woman's risk of developing cervical cancer include smoking, early sexual activity (before the age of 18), or being HIV-positive.
Cervical cancer begins in the lining of the cervix and can take many years to develop without warning signs.
Symptoms of cervical cancer at a later stage include bleeding between monthly periods, unually heavy monthly periods, pain during intercourse, bleeding after intercourse or after a pelvic examination, or bleeding after menopause. These can, however, also be symptoms of cervical infection. Consult your doctor or gynaecologist if any of these symptoms persist.
(Health24, September 2008)