By: Dr Mpume Simelane

Every year October is a women’s health awareness month with a major focus on breast cancer. Cancer contributes significantly towards cause of mortality (death) and morbidity (ill-health). This makes regular check-ups, healthy lifestyle, education and awareness an important part of preventing some of the commonest cancers amongst women.

Statistics confirm that women are often reluctant to go for regular gynaecological check-ups, these are the common reasons why:

  • Lack of awareness
  • Fear of the unknown
  • Costly consultations
  • Prior unpleasant experience
  • Discomfort with gynaecological examination

Today we take the opportunity to chat about what to lookout for, when and

which check-ups are important and hopefully make those dreaded gynae

visits more bearable. I am Dr Mpume Simelane (Zenda) I am an Obstetrician

and Gynaecologist with special interest in sexual and reproductive health.

Good to know

Globally breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting women, followed by lung, cervical, colorectal, stomach, ovarian and endometrial. In South Africa cervical cancer is the commonest amongst black women. Majority of cases in SA present with late stage disease. This raises major concern because its disease process is well understood and it is preventable/treatable provided early detection. This is by and large a reflection of the gaps in our “screening programmes” early detection tools.

Important to know

Family history :

It has been common practice not to talk about sexual and reproductive health

Issue in our families and communities, it is imperative for us to start having such conversations. Understanding of our family tree, illnesses that can be passed down generations such as cancers (breast, ovarian, colorectal).

Lifestyle risks

Diet and Exercise :

There is great benefit in regular exercise and a healthy diet in lowering risk of cancer

Obesity

Has a positive correlation with increased risk of breast, colon , endometria l, and ovarian cancers

Smoking

Smoking is the main risk for lung cancer, including passive smoking

Sexual behaviour and practices:

Cervical cancer is causes by a sexually transmitted virus “human papilloma virus”. The virus is very easily transmittable including via penetrative, same sex, oral, anal, penile sex and may therefore cause cancer at any of these sites.

HIV infection especially when not virally supressed has been shown to accelerate disease process in cervical cancer.

Important to do

  • READ! Read! Read! Let us be knowledgeable about our health
  • Lifestyle changes: eat healthy, exercise, rest, follow your passion, have fun
  • Screening (important check-ups) once a year
  • Pap Smear (NB: National guidelines recommendation 10 yearly if normal , 3 yearly if low risk HIV-ve, 1 yearly if low risk HIV+, Colposcopy & LLETZ for all high risk pap smear results
  • Breast exam – >40years : mammogram yearly
  • HIV testing

Yearly Gynae consult which includes all the above as well as review of:

  • Overall Well-being
  • Family Planning
  • Sexual history and concerns
  • Pelvic exam and ultrasound where indicate

There are two sides of this coin: on the one hand education, sex positive platforms, dialogue, access to health system that provide quality and non-prejudice services are key. We must keep these systems accountable. On the other hand it is our responsibility as individuals to learn about our bodies, our family history, and love and be kind to ourselves by getting regular check-ups. Finally listening to the subtle changes and clues our bodies give us.

Anything that disrupts your normal daily function is not normal, be it bleeding, pain, disruption sexual function, see a health care professional.

Our bodies are constantly speaking wisdom to us!