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Early diagnosis of cervical cancer saves lives

Written: Silusapho Nyanda

From their early 20's, women should go for regular pap smears so that cervical cancer can be diagnosed before it becomes difficult to treat. This is the message to women during Cervical Cancer Awareness Month in September.

Women should go for regular Pap smears at their local clinics, a cervical cancer survivor believes.

Zibulani Dlamini* (45) said if she had had more knowledge about cervical cancer, she would have been tested earlier.

“When you have regular pain in your lower abdomen, you should get tested. Other signs are bleeding during or after sexual intercourse, irregular discharges, abnormal periods and extremely painful periods,” she said, cautioning that in some women, there are no symptoms at all, which is why regular screening is vital.

According to the Cancer Association of South Africa (Cansa) cervical cancer occurs in the cells of the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. "It is the second most common cancer among South African women and is caused mainly by the human papilloma virus, a common virus spread through skin-to-skin contact, bodily fluids and sexual intercourse,"  Cansa said on its website.

Early detection of cervical cancer improves the chances of successful treatment and can prevent any early cervical cell changes from becoming cancerous, Cansa said.

Dlamini was diagnosed in April 2018 after going to her clinic because of pain in her lower abdomen and pelvis.

She said that her Pap smear results came back a month later and she was referred to her local hospital, which in turn referred her to the Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital in Mthatha, where she was told she had cervical cancer.

“The doctors told me that due to the severity of the cancer, it was best to remove my entire womb to stop the cancer from spreading further.”

Dlamini said there should be a drive to teach women more about cervical cancer, how it affects women and where they can seek treatment.

“Women who suspect that something is wrong must seek medical help immediately,” concludes Dlamini.  

*Zibulani Dlamini is not her real name.

Did you know?

  • A pap smear is free and can be done at any primary healthcare facility such as a clinic or a community health centre.
  • Cervical cancer patients and women who want more information on the disease can contact the Cancer Association of South Africa on 0800 22 66 22.
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