Campaign to fight off deadly cervical cancer takes off

Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer among women after breast cancer, says Cancer Association of South Africa. 

Close to 80% of cervical cancers are caused by Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), as a result, the Eastern Cape department of health has embarked on a campaign against the virus

The department is targeting girls aged nine years and older for vaccination against HPV. Its campaign started on February 6 and will end on March 20.

At 22.8 to 27 per 100 000 women, the incidence of cervical cancer in South Africa is higher than the global average of 15.8.

Health MEC’s spokesperson Mkhululi Ndamase said: “Teams have started visiting schools across the province where vaccine is administered on Grade five pupils.”

Ndamase further urged parents and guardians to sign consent forms in order for their children to be vaccinated.

“Last year, the department gave 111 379 young girls the life-saving vaccine. During the 2023 first dose given between February and March, the department administered HPV vaccine to 55 123 grade 5 pupils.” 

In September, the cervical cancer awareness month, 56 256 young girls received their second HPV vaccine.

Advise to women

The Cancer Association of SA (CANSA) encourages women to undergo screening for cervical cancer. The goal of screening for cervical cancer is to find cervix cell changes and early cervical cancers before they cause symptoms.

“It can be successfully treated if detected in the early stages,” CANSA said.

“So, it is important that women are aware of symptoms and what is normal for their bodies and go for regular cancer screening.”

Meanwhile, approximately 19.4-million women aged 15 years and older live with the risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer.  This the cancer affecting women in South Africa the most.

A StatsSA report released in March 2023, indicated that females accounted for 51,3% of cancers diagnosed in South Africa. The report further said cervical cancer incidence and mortality rates were highest among black African women. 

Risky behaviour

StatsSA also makes reference to the WHO’s conclusion that women’s drastically altered lifestyles are the major drivers of cervical cancer. WHO points to the increasing adoption of risky behaviours by women. These include smoking, harmful use of alcohol, inadequate intake of fibre, fruit and vegetables and lack of physical exercise as major contributing factors for increased risk of cancer.

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