cancer (CV) is the fourth most common cancer in
Here, it’s the second most common cancer. Black women are more
likely to be affected, and 90% of deaths by CV happen in developing
The reason? Our infrastructure often prioritises immediate
concerns, like actual diseases, rather than focusing on preventative
measures, like routine Pap smears, the test that checks for precancerous cells.
That’s likely because
screenings are damn expensive and access to healthcare in SA is so limited. Use
these facts to help keep your cervix healthy.
You need an annual gynae appointment
necessarily mean you’re heading out for a yearly Pap smear, but you do need to
get your nether regions visually scanned by a doctor. She needs to look out
for polyps, which, in rare cases, can become cancerous.
“Although you may not
necessarily require a pap smear, the gynaecological exam entails screening for
other cancers/malignancies i.e. uterine and ovarian cancers (depending on
the age of the patient),” says Dr Natacha Allan, a general practitioner from
If you get an abnormal
Pap result, your doctor will test you for human papillomavirus (HPV), one of
the biggest precursors to cervical cancer.
Read more: 5 cancer screening tests every woman
Over 30? Get a combo test
At public hospitals,
guidelines prioritise high priority (HIV-positive) patients get co-tested for
both HPV and are given a Pap smear. But if you can, ask to get given a co-test
Nearly all women will
get HPV at some point in their lives – it spreads through vaginal, oral or anal
sex – and while the majority of cases clear up on their own within a year or
two (often without symptoms), the virus is most likely to cause abnormal
changes in cervical cells when it lingers in a woman’s body for at least a
That’s why co-testing
is so important.
You’re not too old for the HPV vaccine
Best practice is to
get yourself vaccinated before the age of 26. But if you’re older, it’s not too
Both men and women can be vaccinated, even if you’ve been diagnosed
with HPV before since there are more than 170 types of the virus.
“Even though a patient
may be infected with one type of virus, we often identify the virus and still
give the vaccination as protection for the other virus types which have not
been contracted,” says Dr Allan. “Each patient will require an individualised
approach and should discuss risk and benefit with their doctor.”
Read more: The 411 on why you shouldn’t delay your
Pap smear screening
Screening is the best way to prevent cervical cancer
When caught early,
cervical cancer is highly treatable, says gynaecologist Dr Sheeva Talebian.
Even more encouraging: Experts believe 93% of cervical cancers could be
Plus, one of the most
common STDs – and the one that almost always causes cervical cancer – can be
nixed if women just go for regular Pap smears.
Word to the wise: CANSA offers Pap
smears via their mobile screening unit.
This article was originally published on www.womenshealthsa.co.za
Image credit: iStock