AUGUST is Women’s Month and the month aims to commemorate and empower women. In line with celebrating Women’s Month, the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) encouraged women to test for breast and cervical cancer. CANSA said education with the knowledge of symptoms and screening opportunities lower cancer risks. According to CANSA, breast cancer is the most common among South African women with a lifetime risk of one in 27, according to the 2014 National Cancer Registry (NCR). Cervical cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths and the second most commonly diagnosed cancer (excluding basal cell carcinoma) among women. The estimated life-time risk among all women in South Africa is 1:42.Research has shown that a limited knowledge of symptoms, as well as misconceptions, stigma and shame around cancer and screening, especially cervical cancer, cause delays in women going for screening or seeking appropriate care. Head of Service Delivery at CANSA Gerda Strauss said: “We urge women to get to know what is normal for their bodies so that when they do a monthly breast self-examination (BSE) they may detect any changes, signs and symptoms of breast cancer. Get to know the warning signs and symptoms. “We’re excited to share an educational video that shows women how to perform a BSE — it’s available on our website and social media platforms from August 9.“Women who recognise these symptoms should urgently contact CANSA, a health practitioner, or their local clinic for a Clinical Breast Examination (CBE). “Women who have no symptoms of breast cancer should request an annual CBE when visiting primary health care centres as it’s their right, as per the National Department of Health Breast Cancer Control Policy. “Women with a family history of breast cancer should be especially aware of symptoms and not neglect screening.”CANSA’s support to cancer patients also includes medical equipment hire, wigs, counselling, support groups, online support groups and resources, and CANSA Care Homes where patients receiving treatment far from home can stay during treatment. CANSA said most cervical cancers are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV), making it one of the most preventable cancers when the HPV vaccination is implemented appropriately. The vaccination is safe and most effective when given at an early age (nine years old and older) or before sexual debut. In SA, the HPV vaccination was approved by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority in 2008 for its efficacy. “All women should go for pap smears (a procedure to test for cervical cancer in women) at least every three years, from the age of 25, to detect abnormal cells early. However, women are entitled to and can request screening at a younger age. Women making use of public sector screening services are entitled to three free pap smears per lifetime, starting at the age of 30 years or older, with a 10-year interval between each smear. If women experience abnormal symptoms, they can request a pap smear at local government clinics. “CANSA provides pap smear screening at CANSA Care Centres around the country,” Strauss concludes.According to CANSA, HIV-infected women aged between 13 and 18 are at an increased risk for HPV infection. “Those who are HIV positive should be, and are entitled to be, screened for cervical cancer at diagnosis and subsequently every three years if the screening test is negative and at yearly intervals if the screening test is positive. Effective treatment of women with abnormal screening tests is important,” Strauss said.