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Let’s end cervical cancer in South Africa

Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer among South African women, and the cancer women die of most in our country. But it is also one of the most preventable and treatable forms of cancer so it is in our hands to end it.

The cervix connects the vagina (birth canal) to the womb (uterus). Sometimes the cells of the cervix can become cancerous. While all women are at risk for cervical cancer, it happens most often in women over the age of 30.

Almost all cervical cancer is caused by the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) – a sexually transmitted infection also known as genital warts. Women living with HIV are at an increased risk of getting HPV (because of a weakened immune system) and so tend to be diagnosed with cervical cancer more and at an earlier age.

The good news is that there are vaccines and screening tests that prevent cervical cancer from developing.

The HPV vaccine is given to girls in primary school. It protects young women from being infected with HPV and radically reduces their risk of developing cervical cancer later in life. The HPV vaccine is safe and very effective. Large studies in a number of countries that have been vaccinating for HPV over many years show a reduction in cervical cancer rates of 90%.

South Africa has a free screening programme for women over 30, involving a pap smear, which tests for HPV infection and early changes to the cervix which may later develop into cervical cancer. The earlier cancer is found, the easy it is to treat.

January is Cervical Cancer Awareness month and the World Health Organisation is encouraging us to get informed, get screened and get vaccinated.

  • Get informed. Find out the facts about cervical cancer and the human papilloma virus (HPV) that causes it. Help educate other women in your life too. Find out more about cervical cancer in South Africa on the CANSA website.
  • Get screened. Cervical cancer screening normally starts at age 30 and is repeated every one to three years.
  • Get vaccinated. The HPV vaccine is given in 2 doses that should begin when a young person is between 9 and 14 years old. Girls and boys can get the HPV vaccine but only girls are offered it free in South African schools.

Let’s all work together to end cervical cancer in South Africa!