Fewer woman screening for cancer during the pandemic
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While regular cancer screening is cited as one of the key methods to detect cancer early, a recent survey has revealed that many women have not had their annual cancer screenings over the last 18 months.
Lockdown, the fear of contracting Covid-19 virus as well as financial pressure are some of the reasons that have come up in the study.
Only 22% of those surveyed by 1st for Women had gone for a pap smear to screen for ovarian or cervical cancer and just 14% had gone for a mammogram to screen for breast cancer.
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.
“Early detection of cancer is key for quick treatment and a better chance of recovery. 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,” says Seugnette van Wyngaard, Head of 1st for Women Insurance who offers an All Women Dread Disease product which covers a wide range of women-related cancers.
Screening tests 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.
Dr Liat Malek, a specialist radiologist at the Breast Wellness Centre in Johannesburg, says 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/advanced disease.”
"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,” says Malek.
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.
“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,” says Malek.
“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,” van Wyngaard concludes.