In the last 18 months, fewer women had cancer screenings due to lockdown, fear of contracting Covid

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Only 22% of women surveyed by 1st for Women had been for a pap smear to screen for ovarian or cervical cancer, and just 14% had been for a mammogram to screen for breast cancer. Illustration photo by Getty Images
Only 22% of women surveyed by 1st for Women had been for a pap smear to screen for ovarian or cervical cancer, and just 14% had been for a mammogram to screen for breast cancer. Illustration photo by Getty Images
  • Over the last 18 months, many women have not had annual cancer screenings due to lockdown, fear of contracting Covid-19 and financial pressure.
  • In a 1st for Women survey, only 22% had been for a pap smear and only 14% for a mammogram.
  • Doctors recommend regular pap smears from the age of 21, then, if your results are normal, only one screening every three years.


A recent 1st for Women survey shows that many women have not had their annual cancer screenings over the last 18 months due to the lockdowns and fear of contracting the Covid-19 virus, as well as financial pressure.

Only 22% of those surveyed by 1st for Women had been for a pap smear to screen for ovarian or cervical cancer, and just 14% had been for a mammogram to screen for breast cancer.

READ MORE | Meet Galy O’Connor, the woman who saved 25 lives while battling cancer

Doctors recommend that you start going for regular pap smears from the age of 21, even if you are not yet sexually active. If your results are normal, you only need to repeat the screening every three years. Annual screening mammograms are recommended for all women over 40, regardless of symptoms or family history.

According to the American Cancer Society, early-stage breast cancer has a five-year survival rate of 99%. Later-stage cancer has a survival rate of 27%. More than 75% of women who have breast cancer have no family history of cancer.

“Early detection of cancer is key for quick treatment and a better chance of recovery. If you are experiencing symptoms which concern you, it is vital to have them investigated by a health professional as soon as possible. It is also important to know what screening options are available to you,” says Seugnette van Wyngaard, Head of 1st for Women Insurance.

READ MORE | Self-collected cervical screening is a great way to prevent cervical cancer. How can we get more people doing it?

Pap smears

Screening tests can help identify signs of developing cancer before symptoms appear. For example, when you have a pap smear, your gynaecologist may tell you that you have been identified with pre-cancerous cells.

Mammograms

Dr Liat Malek, a Specialist Radiologist at the Breast Wellness Centre in Johannesburg, says that there has been a drastic decline of routine screening mammograms reported around the world. “The result has been that this year we have been diagnosing more late-stage cancers/advanced disease.”

“A screening mammogram is the routine examination of the breasts in women who have no signs or symptoms of cancer, using low dose x-ray imaging. This is the most effective way of diagnosing early breast cancers and therefore reducing breast cancer deaths, with effective and less aggressive treatment,” says Malek.

READ MORE | I had my first pap smear where I buy my lipstick, headache pills, hairfood and toothpaste

Regular screening mammograms allow the doctors to discover subtle changes in the breast compared to the previous years. These subtle changes to the breast pattern may be the first sign of cancer developing and helps catch cancer early before it is even symptomatic.

“Due to the fact that women are staying away from their routine mammograms, our practice is seeing more women with symptoms, most commonly a lump in the breast, and more advanced stages of disease than had they come a year ago,” says Malek.

“Being diagnosed with a dread disease doesn’t have to be a death sentence. Regular screenings mean early detection and treatment, and dread disease cover means you can focus on your health rather than the financial burden of treatment costs,” van Wyngaard concludes.

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