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Know what's going on down-south

During ‘Movember’, men around the world sprout moustaches to raise awareness for men’s health, specifically prostate cancer and other cancers that affect men. Women too are urged to pay attention to their health down-south as the incidence of cervical cancer is second only to breast cancer in South Africa, but it is the most common cancer affecting women in Sub-Saharan Africa.

“Although cervical cancer is one of the most preventable types of cancers, it is disconcertingly common in South Africa and is the biggest cause of cancer-related deaths in women here. We believe it is becoming critically-important to increase women’s knowledge of cervical cancer and stress the importance of screening for prevention,” says Robyn Farrell, managing director of 1st for Women Insurance.

1st for Women Insurance has teamed up with Right to Care, an NGO that treats cervical cancer and infectious diseases, and has provided a grant of R450 000 towards a mobile cervical cancer screening unit which offers screening to women in the Thabo Mofutsanyane district in the Free State. 1st for Women Insurance also sponsors a mobile cervical cancer screening unit that services the Karoo.

These mobile cervical cancer screening units assist women who are unable to visit distant clinics and assist overwhelmed clinics, who often cannot conduct Pap Smears due to understaffing issues. “We are also committed to doing what we can to raise awareness of cervical cancer through our own efforts*. With greater awareness and by encouraging women to undergo regular screenings, the impact of this disease on South Africa’s women could be reduced,” says Farrell. Globally, cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women, after breast cancer, but it is the most common cancer in women in developing countries.

In South Africa, one out of 35 women will develop cervical cancer, the leading cause of female cancer deaths. According to the Cancer Association of South Africa, cervical cancer claims the lives of more than 3 400 South African women each year. Black women are more than twice as likely as white women to develop cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is transmitted through sexual activity.

There are about 100 known types of HPV, of which 15 can cause cervical cancer. Women can be infected with HPV at any time in their lives while they are sexually active, but most infections clear up on their own. When an infection persists, the risk of developing cervical cancer rises. Other risk factors, such as smoking, can act to increase the risk of cervical cancer among women infected with HPV. The best way to reduce the risk of cervical cancer is with regular screening.

This is an important way of detecting early changes in cells of the cervix so that treatment can be given to prevent a cancer developing. It involves taking a sample of cells from the cervix, known as a Pap smear, and should be done annually. It is now also possible to vaccinate against most common cancer-causing strains of HPV. Catching and treating the disease early greatly improves prognosis and the chance of a cure.

Unfortunately, a lot of South African women do not undergo regular screening for cervical cancer due to lack of awareness or because they can’t, or don’t know how to, access the necessary healthcare services. “We are pleased to partner with Right to Care on this very important initiative, and commend their efforts and the efforts of other organizations pushing cervical cancer screening in South Africa.

“All women who are sexually active must make it a priority to know the state of their heath down-south,” concludes Farrell. * 1st for Women Insurance policyholders automatically donate a portion of their premiums to the 1st for Women Insurance Trust. The main goal of the 1st for Women Insurance Trust is to uplift, assist and empower the women of our country.

Since its inception in 2005 the 1st for Women Insurance Trust has donated over R16 million to women-related causes and charity organisations. 1st for Women policyholders have a say as to which charity or organisation the Trust supports. Gender Based Violence and Cancer affecting women are causes most voted for by 1st for Women Insurance policyholders.

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