Velisha Thompson of the City of Johannesburg writes:
Higher rates of cancer, diabetes and heart disease and other ailments in women are still a huge reality.
This is despite the availability of more resources to help people understand their personal health and wellness needs. For the month of women, their health takes centre stage as I look at the two most common cancers in women – breast and cervical cancer.
Breast cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancerous) cells are found in breast tissues. Each breast has 15 to 20 sections called lobes, which have many smaller sections called lobules. The earlier breast cancer is detected, the greater the chance of cure and the easier it is to treat.
High-risk factors include:
- No children or first child after 30 years of age
- Starting periods early
- Late menopause
- Family history of breast cancer
- Previous history of breast cancer
- Obesity (especially post-menopause)
- High-fat diet
- Prolonged use of hormone therapy with high dosage.
All women should:
- Do monthly breast self-examinations, be on the alert for any changes and discuss them with their healthcare practitioner
- Go for an annual physical check-up
- Go for a mammogram, especially if you are in the high-risk group. A baseline mammogram is advisable for every female at age 35 to 39, and a bi-annual mammogram is advisable for every female after age 50
- The best time to do a breast self-examination is after your periods, so a self-exam should be done every month to check for changes in shape or size, discharge or bleeding from the nipple, or skin eruption around the nipple.
Cancer of the cervix is second only to breast cancer as the most common type of cancer found in women worldwide. Cervical cancer is a disease in which cancer cells develop in the tissues of the cervix.
Healthcare professionals use a pap smear test to find cellular abnormalities in cervical tissue that are cancerous or may become cancerous.
The earlier cervical cancer is diagnosed, the better the chance for a cure. A pap smear is a simple, quick and painless procedure. The minimum requirement for pap smears is that you have at least three paps smears at 10-year intervals from the age of 30.
The reason screening is so important in preventing cervical cancer is because the disease usually has no symptoms in its earliest stages.
All women are at risk of developing the disease, but several factors can increase a woman’s risk:
- A compromised immune system related to certain illnesses such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. Being HIV positive makes a woman’s immune system less able to fight cancers such as cervical cancer
- Smoking cigarettes
- A diet low in fruits and vegetables. Overweight women are also more likely to develop cervical cancer
- A family history of cervical cancer – if your mother or sister had cervical cancer it may mean you have a genetic tendency for the disease
- Long-term oral contraceptive use (five or more years) may slightly increase a woman’s risk of cancer of the cervix, according to some statistical evidence
- Certain types of sexual behaviour increase a woman’s risk, such as having sex at an early age, having many sexual partners and having unprotected sex at any age.
CONSULT WITH YOUR DOCTOR
Breast cancer and cervical cancer can be effectively managed if discovered at an early stage. You should consult with your doctor for more advice, and request LAB24 for fast, affordable and reliable diagnostic tests.