Lockdown, Covid-19 and financial pressure see fewer women screening for cancer

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DURBAN – LOCKDOWN, fear of contracting Covid-19 and financial constraints have led to fewer women scheduling their annual cancer screenings.

A survey has revealed that in the last 18 months, women are not going for pap smears or scheduling screenings for ovarian or cervical cancer.

The survey by 1st for Women has also revealed that many women are not scheduling mammogram screening for breast cancer.

Head of 1st for Women Insurance, Seugnette van Wyngaard, said early detection for cancer is key as there is a better chance of recovery if women are treated early.

“If you are experiencing symptoms which concern you, it is vital to have them investigated by a health professional as soon as possible. It is also important to know what screening options are available to you,” she said.

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.

According to the American Cancer Society, early-stage breast cancer has a five-year survival rate of 99%. Later-stage cancer has a survival rate of 27%. More than 75% of women who have breast cancer have no family history of cancer.

Pap smear screening can help identify signs of developing cancer before symptoms appear. For example, when you have a pap smear, your gynaecologist may tell you that you have been identified with pre-cancerous cells.

Regular screening mammograms allow the doctors to discover subtle changes in the breast by comparing to the previous years. These subtle changes to the breast pattern may be the first sign of a cancer developing and helps catch the cancer early before it is even symptomatic.

Dr Liat Malek, a Specialist Radiologist at the Breast Wellness Centre in Johannesburg, says that 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 cancers or advanced diseases. 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. This is the most effective way of diagnosing early breast cancers, and therefore, reducing breast cancer deaths with effective and less aggressive treatment,” Malek said.

She said a screening mammogram is the routine examination of the breasts in women who have no signs or symptoms of a cancer, using low dose x-ray imaging. This is the most effective way of diagnosing early breast cancers, and therefore, reducing breast cancer deaths, with effective and less aggressive treatment.

“Due to the fact that women are staying away from their routine mammograms, our practice is seeing more women with symptoms, most commonly a lump in the breast, and more advanced stages of disease than had they come a year ago,” Malek said.

Van Wyngaard added that being diagnosed with a dread disease doesn’t have to be a death sentence.

“Regular screenings mean early detection and treatment, and dread disease cover means you can focus on your health rather than the financial burden of treatment costs,” she said.

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