For most women these days, cancer is personal. We’ve either lost someone to it, supported someone through it or have fought it ourselves. But a breast, ovarian or cervical cancer diagnosis doesn’t have to be fatal. Early detection is still the best protection we have against these all-too-prolific diseases.
The last 18 months have been a whirlwind of ups and downs for most people and if you’re a woman, things like ‘general check ups’ and ‘annual screenings’ haven’t likely been high on your priority list. But they should be. Whether it’s been a fear of contracting Covid or financial strain that’s kept you from having your cancer screenings, now is the time to get them done.
In a recent survey by 1st for Women, only 22 per cent of women had been for a pap smear to screen for ovarian or cervical cancer and just 14 per cent had been for a mammogram to screen for breast cancer.
Most doctors recommend that you start going for regular pap smears from the age of 21, even if you are not yet sexually active. If your results are normal, you only need to repeat the screening every three years. Annual screening mammograms are recommended for all women over 40, regardless of symptoms or family history. “Early detection of cancer is key for quick treatment and a better chance of recovery. If you are experiencing symptoms which concern you, it is vital to have them investigated by a health professional as soon as possible,” says Seugnette van Wyngaard from 1st for Women Insurance.
Pap smear screening tests can help identify signs of developing cancer before symptoms appear. When you have a pap smear, your gynaecologist may tell you that you have been identified with pre-cancerous cells.
According to Dr Liat Malek, a specialist radiologist at the Breast Wellness Centre in Joburg, there has been a drastic decline of routine screening mammograms reported around the world. “The result has been that this year we have been diagnosing more late-stage/advanced disease cancers.”
A screening mammogram is the routine examination of the breasts in women who have no signs or symptoms of cancer, using low dose x-ray imaging. Dr Malek says this is the most effective way of diagnosing early breast cancers and therefore reducing breast cancer deaths, with effective and less aggressive treatment.
Regular screening mammograms allow the doctors to discover subtle changes in the breast by comparing them to the previous years. These subtle changes to the breast pattern may be the first sign of cancer developing and help catch cancer early before it is even symptomatic.
They say there is no time like the present and, specifically in this case, we couldn’t agree more. So, pick up that phone and book for your screenings today … you might just save your own life.