These five health screenings for women could save your life [infographic]
Posted on 20 August 2018
Some of the cancers that most often affect women are breast, cervical, colon, endometrial and lung cancers. Knowing what you can do to detect them early (when they are small and easier to treat) is crucial.
Apart from non-melanoma skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women of all races. ‘It is estimated breast cancer affects one in eight women globally during their lifetime,’ says Dr Lizanne Langenhoven, an oncologist at Mediclinic Panorama.
Best defence: Detect it early – when it’s small, has not spread and is easier to treat. Be familiar with how your breasts normally look, do regular self-examinations and feel and report any changes to your doctor immediately. If you’re between the ages of 45 and 54, you should have a mammogram every year. From the age of 55, you should have them every two years.
One in 39 women in South Africa will be diagnosed with cervical cancer (NCR 2012). It is curable if detected and treated in the early stages. The primary underlying cause of cervical cancer is the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), which is transmitted through skin to skin contact and is a very common virus infecting most people at some point in their lives.
Best defence: Having regular pap smears can detect abnormal cells in your cervix (mouth of the womb), that could develop into cervical cancer. Sexually active women should start having regular pap smears from the age of 18.
Colon cancer almost always starts with a polyp – a small growth on the lining of your colon or rectum.
Best defence: Warning signs include a change in bowel habits (diarrhoea/constipation), rectal bleeding or blood in stools, and persistent abdominal discomfort (cramps, gas or pain). If pre-cancerous polyps are removed in time, colon cancer can be prevented. From the age of 45, you can have a stool-based test or colonoscopy to rule out the possibilities of colon cancer. If you are at high risk of colon cancer based on your family history, symptoms or other factors, ask your doctor if you should start testing before age 45.
Uterine (Endometrial) Cancer
This is when malignant (cancer) cells form in the lining of your uterus.
Along with other risk factors, obesity and having metabolic syndrome or Type 2 diabetes may increase your risk of endometrial cancer. In addition, if you’re considering hormone replacement therapy to help control menopause symptoms, replacing oestrogen alone after menopause may increase your risk of endometrial cancer.
Best defence: Watch for symptoms, such as pelvic pain and unusual spotting or bleeding not related to your menstrual cycle, and report these to your doctor.
Because endometrial cancer begins inside your uterus, it does not usually show up in the results of a pap smear test. For this reason, a sample of endometrial tissue must be removed and checked under a microscope to look for cancer cells. This can either be done via a biopsy or Dilatation and Curettage.
Because early-stage lung cancer often doesn’t have signs and symptoms, doctors use the following ways to diagnose it: your medical history, sputum cytology (looking at your mucus under a microscope), biopsy and certain imaging tests – such as a CT or PET CT scan.
Best defence: The number one thing you can do to prevent lung cancer is not to smoke and to avoid other people’s secondhand smoke.