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Women Should Always Prioritise Their Health

By Dr Marion Morkel, 12 November 2020

“I am too young” or “Cancer doesn’t run in my family” are some of the oldest myths women tell themselves when speaking about cancer. But the truth is that a shift in mindset is vital to ensure the health of yourself and your loved ones.

And while the strict restrictions placed on South Africans due to COVID-19 has caused great disruption in our daily routines, regular health check-ups should always remain a top priority throughout the year.

Apart from non-melanoma skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women of all races across South Africa, reports CANSA. Breast cancer has a lifetime risk of 1 in 25 while cervical cancer, the second most common cancer amongst women, has a 1 in 35 lifetime risk.

Dr Marion Morkel, Chief Medical Officer at Sanlam, says: “Screening for, fearing or being diagnosed with cancer is not a secret that should be hidden. We need to normalise having these open conversations with close friends and family. Educating ourselves and others is also equally important. The more we bring it out in the open, the more vigilant and aware we become of how we can help ourselves, others and those in our family.”

Here, Dr Morkel reinforces some of the basic principles that need to be applied to ensure your health. She also highlights the often-overlooked costs associated with cancer.

Always Prioritise Your Scheduled Screenings

The best advice remains with a screening schedule as advised by a health professional. The following basic guidelines provided by health authorities can be used as a benchmark:

  • Breast cancer: Breast self-examinations should occur fortnightly throughout a woman’s reproductive years and beyond. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that women aged 40 to 44 years start to consider annual mammogram checks. By the age of 45, annual mammograms are recommended while those aged 55 years and older (usually post-menopausal) can schedule a mammogram every alternate year or annually, dependent on their doctor’s advice.
  • Cervical cancer: CANSA recommends women start screening at the age of 25 and thereafter get screened at 3-year intervals provided their results are normal. If they are abnormal or atypical, the health professional will make recommendations on the interval of follow-up. Younger women have the right to ask for screenings to start earlier and, in this case, health professionals will assess the risk and advise whether an indication has been picked up.

Add these day-to-day preventative methods to your daily routine:

  • Educate yourself and your family about the risks associated with the most common cancers. Sometimes a quick desktop search can help with basic tips on how to check for any abnormalities.
  • Incorporate a healthy, balanced lifestyle, a step that is often underestimated. While cancer is unavoidable, individuals with a healthier profile generally have a higher probability of a favourable outcome.
  • Follow the prescribed screening programme by setting monthly or annual reminders on your phone
  • Cervical cancer has some risk factors linked to sexual history so ensuring you are as safe as possible when you engage in a sexual relationship can also reduce your risk

Now Is the Time to Plan for Your Health

The unexpected costs linked to cancer treatment can cause financial stress, so planning effectively is key. Factoring the costs of medication, the assistance you may need with duties such as getting a driver to run errands or getting an extra hand to help around the house can leave a big hole in your pocket, even with the help of a medical aid.

Dr Morkel notes that the time spent off work is often underestimated. Not everyone has the same reaction to treatment plans and, for some, it can be quite debilitating. The treatment may include changes in your body that would require a new wardrobe or accessories to assist with improving your self-image. An example of such a cost is wearing a wig should you experience hair loss due to chemotherapy.

Ensuring that the gap is met, and everyone has a fair chance to access quality healthcare, CANSA has eight mobile health clinics that travel to remote areas throughout South Africa to reach women and men who do not have access to screenings. Some of the services offered through the mobile clinics include clinical breast examinations, tutorials on how to do self-breast examinations and pap smears, the screening test for early diagnosis of cervical cancer. Further assistance such as cancer education, queries, and support are offered via CANSA’s WhatsApp line (+27 71 867 3580) in isiXhosa, isiZulu, Sesotho, and siSwati.

No one plans on getting cancer, but the reality is that cancer affects 25% of South Africans,” concludes Dr Morkel. “Start planning for tomorrow today and safeguard your future to ensure you and your loved ones are cared for.”

Sanlam Life Insurance is a licensed financial service provider.
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