We must beat cervical cancer – and we can!

By sibongile Ramotshela, cervical cancer coordinator at Right to Care

People living with HIV are at higher risk of developing common cancers, TB and other non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Cervical cancer is the second most common cause of cancer among women worldwide and a leading cause of cancer death in South African women. These are alarming statistics but we are working hard to change this. Our research and clinical trial institutions in South Africa have made great headway in finding prevention and treatment solutions to this cancer while on the ground, we work hard to mitigate risk by educating and informing all women about the risks, the symptoms and the treatment available.

While cervical cancer affects women across the country and the world, we have a project in KwaZulu-Natal which can be considered as an exemplar for early detection and timeous treatment of cervical cancer. This is the integrated chronic care initiative in KZN’s UThukela District, funded by the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation which has charged Right to Care with overall project management, training doctors and nurses and procuring equipment.

We have local community partners that we work with – the Bhekhuzulu Self-Sustaining Project and the Mpilonhle Sanctuary Organization. We also link with the regional and district Departments of Health. These relationships allow us to scale up awareness, screening and treatment services. Communities, women’s groups and faith-based organisations are helping to raise awareness.  

Cervical cancer has once again been highlighted as a preventable but highly prevalent cancer. The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection and the most common cause of 70% of cervical cancers. The HPV vaccination of young girls is not well implemented in school health programmes in this area despite it being a primary prevention strategy for cervical and other HPV-related cancers. Furthermore, pap smear screening in this district are well below the levels required to effectively prevent these cancers.

HIV positive women are three to five times more likely to develop cervical cancer and its progression is far more rapid in HIV positive patients. The new integrated chronic care initiative here in the heart of KZN aims to tackle this cancer as well, which affects young women the most.

At first there can be no symptoms of cervical cancer, but young girls and women can experience symptoms like pain in the pelvis, pain during sexual intercourse, abnormal menstruation, heavy menstruation, irregular menstruation, or spotting, abnormal vaginal bleeding or abnormal vaginal discharge. Fatigue, nausea or weight loss can also occur.

Young girls and women in KZN can contact the Bhekhuzulu Self-Sustaining Project and the Mpilonnhle Sanctuary and ask for guidance on what to do and how to get a healthcare assessment.

Women in other parts of the country can go to their nearest healthcare facility where nurses are trained to deal with young women who may be afraid and insecure about seeking help.

You can also contact the Cancer Association on:

  • 0800 22 6622
  • 072 197 9305 English and Afrikaans
  • 071 867 3530 Xhosa, Zulu, Sotho and Siswati
  • info@cansa.org.za