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Cervical cancer to be zapped

State-of-the-art machines will help medical doctors detect cervical cancer in its early stages.

From left KwaZulu-Natal Health MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo with acting head of the department Dr Musa Gumede, UKZN Head Obstetrics and Gynaecology Prof Motshidisi Sebitloane and head of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in the provincial department Dr Neil Moran during the unveiling of the new Large Loop Excision of the Transformation Zone (LLETZ) machines.The KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health has invested about R900 000 in purchasing 15 new cervical cancer machines.

Unlike many cancers, cancer of the cervix is preventable and the new Large Loop Excision of the Transformation Zone (LLETZ) machines make it easier to detect abnormalities in the cervix that could lead to cancer.

The LLETZ is said to be one of the most effective procedures to prevent cancer of the cervix occurring in women who have been identified as being at high risk.

The function of the LLETZ machine is to conduct a small, non-invasive surgical procedure on the woman’s cervix.

Using electrical current, the LLETZ procedure removes that part of the cervix where the cells are becoming abnormal and which might develop into cancer.

These abnormal cells can be detected by a pap smear, which must be done regularly.

An important feature of cancer of the cervix is that the disease has a long pre-cancer phase which lasts for several years.

This provides an opportunity to detect it by pap smear and then to treat it with the LLETZ procedure before it progresses to cancer.

The new machines will therefore increase the capacity to prevent cancer of the cervix in KwaZulu-Natal by allowing this procedure to be available in more sites.

Currently, 17 hospitals in the province have these purpose-designed, functioning LLETZ machines

The machines will be distributed at Nkandla, Eshowe, Benedictine, Nkonjeni, Osindisweni and King Dinuzulu hospitals.

KwaZulu-Natal health MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo said the machines will be used by medical officers because the province does not have oncologists in far flung areas.

“From now onwards, with the advent of LLETZ procedures, particularly in rural-based hospitals, we are sure to treat this form of ailment before it progresses to cancer, which again, we emphasise, is preventable,” said MEC Dhlomo.

Medical officers have been trained to use the machines and the aim of the programme is to focus more on prevention by ensuring that abnormalities are detected early. Waiting times for cervical cancer treatment will also be reduced.

Cervical cancer caused by HPV

Dr Neil Moran, head of the clinical obstetrics and gynaecology with the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health, said the cause of cervical cancer is the human papillomavirus (HPV) which is a sexually transmitted disease that is extremely common.

“A large proportion of young sexually active people would have been infected with this virus. It doesn’t cause symptoms and people wouldn’t know that they have the virus.

“For most people, the body gets ride of the virus naturally. In a small proportion of women, the virus remains in the cervix which will cause changes to the cells of the cervix and make them abnormal.”

Dr Moran added that abnormal cells can develop into cancer of the cervix over a long period of time.

“This means there is a pre-cancerous phase which gives us time to prevent the disease.

 “Treatment of cancer is complicated but the prevention of it by removing abnormal cells is very simple.”

Did you know

Despite the efficacy of screening for cervical cancer to ensure early detection and treatment, at least 10 women per day die in South Africa because of this disease.