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27 September 2022 | Story Jóhann Thormählen | Photo iStock
Cervical cancer awareness ribbon
Cervical Cancer Awareness Month is observed in September in South Africa to encourage women to go for screening to prevent it.

Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer among women in South Africa, and many die from it each year – but it can be prevented.

According to Dr Arina Meyer, medical practitioner in Kovsie Health at the University of the Free State, this is one of the reasons why it is important to be informed, take precautions, and raise awareness about the disease.

Cervical Cancer Awareness Month is observed in September in South Africa with the aim of encouraging women to go for screening to prevent it.

Although medical statistics paint a bleak picture, Meyer says there is hope. “It is important to know that cervical cancer can be prevented. And when it is diagnosed early, it can be treated.”

Statistics and causes

According to her, figures show the occurrence of cervical cancer to be between 22,8 and 27 per 100 000 women in South Africa. 

“More than 5 700 new cases are reported each year, as well as more than 3 000 deaths. Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer – after skin cancer – in South Africa.”

Meyer says when one look at these numbers, it is important to commemorate Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, as women need to be informed about their annual check-up, possible symptoms, and signs of the cancer.

Most cervical cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is transmitted through sexual contact. Therefore, the HPV is seen as a sexually transmitted disease.

“There are different types of HPV. Some cause cervical cancer and other genital warts. One can develop one or both conditions, depending on the type of virus you have,” says Meyer.

Prevention and reducing the risk

According to her, preventative action is the best method. Going for a cervical screening every year when you become sexually active, such as a Pap smear or Pap test, will help in the early detection and removal of abnormal cells.

There is also a vaccine for protection against HPV, which is available from the age of nine. Meyer says there are two vaccines in South Africa.

“By getting the vaccine early, before any sexual activity, the spread of HPV – and therefore cervical cancer – can be prevented. Up to 90% of cancers can be prevented.
“Unfortunately, if someone has already been infected by the HPV, it cannot be treated by the vaccine.”

The UFS medical practitioner says the best ways to reduce the risk of cervical cancer are to go for an annual Pap smear, a follow-up after an abnormal test result, the vaccine, safe sex, and to stop smoking.

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