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Standing Together to Eliminate Cervical Cancer

On 17 November 2021, CANSA and other cancer control partners worldwide marked the first anniversary of the World Health Organization (WHO)’s ‘Eliminate Cervical Cancer’ Campaign. Launched by the WHO to eliminate cervical cancer as a public health problem globally in 2020, countries and communities around the world mark this movement with a day of action and the launch of local campaigns.

#EliminateCervicalCancer #CANSACervicalCancerAwareness

Advocates and survivors play leading roles and share their stories. On the anniversary of this movement, CANSA once more commits itself towards raising awareness of cervical cancer, how to lower cancer risk and the importance of regular screening to promote early detection and save lives.

Dr Manala Makua, Chief Director of Women’s Maternal and Reproductive Health (National Department of Health) calls upon all women in South Africa to fight against cervical cancer. It starts with signing consent forms to allow young girls to be immunised with the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine.

She explains, “One in 40 women are at risk of developing cervical cancer (NCR 2017). It’s the leading cause of cancer related deaths, and the second most common diagnosed cancer among South African women. As a country, just over one million women are screened for cervical cancer annually. This is very low as we should be screening above five million a year based on the population group that needs to be screened. If you’re 30 or older, please present yourself to the nearest health facility and request cervical cancer screening.”

“It’s very important that women are aware of the changes that happen in their bodies. If you’re having heavy, prolonged bleeding heavier than your normal menses, or if you have a foul smell coming from your vagina, please visit your nearest health facility. If you’re screened for cervical cancer, please go back to the facility after six weeks for your results. HIV infected women are at an increased risk for cervical cancer at an earlier age. If you’re diagnosed with HIV, you should screen for cervical cancer every three years irrespective of the age. Cervical cancer is highly treatable if caught in the early stages and treatment should start as soon as possible for best results. Don’t wait, cervical cancer may catch you unaware,” added Dr Makua.

Lorraine Govender, CANSA’s National Manager: Health Promotion, explains how CANSA contributes by raising awareness around cervical cancer.

“We aim to educate more women about cervical cancer and we’re excited to introduce a video promoting the importance of Pap smears and educational radio spots. The radio spots are available in isiXhosa, isiZulu, Sesotho, English and Afrikaans, so we’re delighted to be reaching a wider audience of women. CANSA is thankful to Siemens Healthineers for sponsoring the cost of the radio spots and video to raise cervical cancer awareness.”

Govender adds, “We encourage women aged 18 to 69 to contact a CANSA Care Centre to book a Pap smear or visit their local clinic or health professional. As part of our screening programme, CANSA makes use of the trusted and clinically proven liquid-based cytology method when collecting a sample during a Pap smear. Pap smears help us identify abnormal cells on the cervix (lower womb) caused by HPV which can lead to cancer. Should the result indicate an abnormality, CANSA can help with a referral within the public health care sector or to a medical practitioner.”

Rae van Nieuwenhuizen, cervical cancer Survivor, agrees that cervical cancer needs to be spoken about more and a greater awareness of early detection and self- awareness needs to be promoted.

According to the National Department of Health’s Cervical Cancer Prevention and Control Policy women aged 30 years and older can have three Pap smears in their lifetime at 30, 40 and 50 at public health clinics at no cost (non-symptomatic). If women experience abnormal symptoms, they can request a Pap smear at local government clinics. HIV positive women are eligible for a Pap smear at diagnosis and every three years thereafter if negative for cervical cancer (yearly if screening is positive).

References:

(1) International Papilloma Virus Society (IPVS) 2021 Campaign Guide
(2) National Department of Health South Africa (2017) ‘Cervical Cancer Prevention and Control Policy’
(3) Cohen PA, JhingranA, Oaknin A, Denny L. Cervical cancer. Lancet. 2019; 393 (10167): 169-82

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