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  • Writer's pictureSinead Mackintosh

South African Women's Day

To celebrate South African Women’s Day this year, I wanted to highlight two crucial cancer screening procedures that can save lives!

Firstly, pap smears. I know this idea is not appealing, but the procedure is quick and straightforward. Plus, it saves so many lives every year! Regular pap smears are essential to maintaining your reproductive health and catching any abnormalities early on. By detecting abnormal cells in the cervix, pap smears can help prevent the development of cervical cancer.

That's why it's recommended that women start getting regular pap smears once they turn 21 or become sexually active (guidelines may differ across countries). Cervical cancer can be caused by a virus known as HPV (Human papillomavirus), and it is not usually related to an inherited cancer. HPV is a very common group of ±100 viruses. For most people HPV may not cause any health problems… but some types can cause genital warts or cervical cancer. HPV can be transmitted as an STI, and although there are HPV vaccines available, safe sex is always advised.

The pap smear procedure involves collecting a sample of cells from the cervix and examining them for any abnormalities (cancerous or pre-cancerous cells). By prioritising regular pap smears, you can take proactive steps to reduce your risk of developing cervical cancer and ensure your overall well-being.

Although men and women can get breast cancer, it is more common in biological females. For most biological females, screening for breast cancer begins at 40, but if there is a personal or family history of breast/ovarian cancer, you might want to start screening earlier.

However, all biological females should be familiar with their breasts and perform self-breast exams about twice a month (before and after their period). For younger women, breast ultrasounds are generally done instead of a mammogram or after a mammogram that might have picked up a suspicious lump.

Breast ultrasounds are a type of medical imaging test that uses high-frequency sound waves to create detailed images of breast tissue. This test is often used to evaluate breast lumps or abnormalities found during a physical exam or mammogram. Unlike mammograms, which use X-rays, ultrasounds do not expose you to radiation. The images can help your doctor determine whether a lump is a cyst, a solid mass or something else. Breast ultrasounds are generally safe, painless and non-invasive.

Mammograms are specialised X-ray images of the breast that can detect early signs of breast cancer, including lumps or abnormalities that may not be noticeable during a physical exam. Early detection through mammograms can provide more treatment options and a higher chance of successful treatment and recovery.

Remember to speak with a healthcare professional to learn more about the appropriate cancer screening tests for your age, gender, and individual risk factors. Suppose you have a family history of cancer. In that case, you should chat with a doctor or genetic counsellor about your personalised risk and see if genetic testing is a good option for you and your family.

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