Durban - Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo, the KwaZulu-Natal Health MEC has unveiled a new government policy which aims to save many lives and enhance the early detection of breast and cervical cancer, improving the rate of treatment and cure.
Dhlomo said cervical cancer is the second most common cancer among women in South Africa after breast cancer.
Cervical cancer has been identified as a national priority in South Africa as well as other Sub-Saharan African nations. Earlier, cervical cancer used to affect older women in their 60s, it has become common in women in their 30s.
As a result, the National Health Council has formulated the National Cervical Cancer Prevention Policy (NCCPP) and the Breast Cancer Prevention and Control Policy, with an aim to ensure that the early symptoms of cancer are identified early.
“When we talk about oncology cases in KZN, those are late cases because we do not detect early. If we can mount and strengthen early detection, we can actually be unlikely to get many more cases of advanced cancer that will require chemotherapy, radio therapy and surgery,” Dhlomo said.
“If you want to focus strongly on women’s health you must then focus your attention on programmes what will address those issues because, now have tools to propagate for early detection we’ll remove a lot of the problems that we see.”
Update to the policy also recognises technological advancements in cervical cancer prevention methods and new evidence on prevention and treatment approaches in the context of an endemic HIV epidemic.
Special provision has been made for the use of Liquid-Based Cytology (LBC), which is considered to be an alternative to conventional cytological investigations.
With LBC, a spatula or brush/broom-like device is used to collect cells (in the same way as for conventional cytology), and then the cells are out into a liquid medium and transported to the laboratory for processing and reading.
“This ensures a good quality and clean slide which is easier to interpret, and reduces the need for repeat pap smear thus saving costs,” said Dhlomo.
According to the National Cancer Registry, there were 5 785 new cases in 2012 - an age standardised incidence rate of 24.17 per 100 000 women.
In order to reduce the impact of cervical cancer on health and socio economic development, South Africa must implement a comprehensive cervical cancer prevention and management programme. This entails implementation of three interdependent strategies, namely: (i) reducing oncogenic HPV infections, (ii) detecting and treating cervical pre-cancer, and (iii) providing timely treatment and palliative care for invasive cancer.
Dhlomo encouraged all women to inspect their breasts regularly and report to a health institution if they notice any abnormality. He said he will be going around the province promoting the new breast and cervical cancer policy.
The Cancer Association of South Africa (Cansa) are in support of the two new policies presented by Dhlomo, which form part of the Government’s National Cancer Control Plan.
“These two policies are the cornerstone of national cancer control and in addition, provides South African healthcare services with a starting point to achieving its objectives while also enabling the public to hold government accountable to these,” said Lorraine Govender, National Advocacy Co-ordinator at Cansa.
Govender said Cansa recognises the importance of such a plan.
“We have a long history of advocating for the updating of the National Cancer Control Plan and have been privileged to contribute towards the development of content for both breast and cervical risk reduction and control policies. We believe this to be a vital road map in guiding better cancer control in South Africa,” continued Govender.
She said that the province has one of the highest deaths resulting from cervical cancer and since early detection saves lives, they hope the healthcare system in KZN is equipped to meet the increased public demands from raised awareness of both these diseases. They also continue to advocate for access to oncology treatment and an increase in oncology consultants to assist in reducing the overall cancer burden in KZN and overall in South Africa.