Prevent cervical cancer this September


In September we mark Cervical Cancer Awareness Month to raise awareness and encourage women to screen for cervical cancer (with an HPV test or a Pap smear). The goal of screening for cervical cancer is to find changes in the cervix cells and detect cervical cancers early, before they cause symptoms.

Cervical cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths, and the second most common diagnosed cancer (excluding basal cell carcinoma) among South African women. According to the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), 1 in every 42 women has a lifetime risk of being diagnosed with cervical cancer. This should not happen where vaccination against human papillomavirus (HPV) and cancer screenings are implemented correctly.

What is cervical cancer?

A woman's cervix (the mouth of the womb) is the lower, narrow end of her uterus (the hollow, pear-shaped organ where a foetus can grow). The cervix leads from the uterus to the vagina (birth canal) below.

Cervical cancer is a disease in which the cells of the cervix become abnormal and start to form tumours, mostly due to an infection with human papillomavirus (HPV). The symptoms vary from woman to woman. Some women will have no symptoms, while others may have severe symptoms.

Please listen to our Understanding Cancer podcasts and specifically the episode about understanding cancers that affect women. It has a lot of information that is easy to understand about cervical cancer, breast cancer and more:

Signs and symptoms of cervical cancer

The Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) lists the following symptoms to look out for:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding between menstrual cycles
  • Continuous vaginal discharge
  • Menstrual periods becoming heavier and lasting longer
  • Vaginal bleeding or pain during sexual intercourse
  • Increased urinary frequency
  • Vaginal bleeding after menopause

How to prevent cervical cancer

1. Stop smoking
Stop, or preferably never start, smoking.

2. Prevent or manage sexually transmitted diseases
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) and it is responsible for most cervical cancers.

3. Get vaccinated against HPV
HPV vaccines are vaccines that prevent infection by certain types of human papillomavirus. Available HPV vaccines protect against either two, four or nine types of HPV. All HPV vaccines protect against at least HPV types 16 and 18, which cause most cervical cancers.

4. Get screened for and treat pre-cancerous lesions
A Pap smear is a quick examination to check the cervix for pre-cancerous or cancerous cells. A trained nurse or doctor takes a small brush or spatula to remove cells from the cervix and sends it off for testing to determine whether pre-cancerous or cancerous cells are present.

An HPV test uses a sample of cells to determine whether the cervix cells are infected with a high-risk strain of the human papillomavirus (HPV). A trained nurse or doctor takes a small brush or spatula to remove cells from the cervix and sends it off for testing to determine whether a high-risk strain of HPV is present.

Screening tests offer the best chance to detect cervical cancer at an early stage when successful treatment is likely. Screening can also actually prevent most cervical cancers by finding abnormal cells (pre-cancers) so that they can be treated before they have a chance to turn into a cervical cancer.

Read more about screenings for women and how Discovery Health Medical Scheme covers essential screening tests.

You can also learn more about how Discovery Health Medical Scheme members are covered for pap smears and HPV tests for cervical screening here.

Treatment for cervical cancer

When diagnosed, cervical cancer is one of the most successfully treatable forms of cancer. This is as long as it is detected early and managed effectively. Cancers diagnosed in late stages can also be controlled with appropriate treatment and palliative care.

Learn more about the Oncology Benefit and supportive cancer treatment available for Discovery Health Medical Scheme members here.

The Discovery Health Medical Scheme is an independent non-profit entity governed by the Medical Schemes Act, and regulated by the Council for Medical Schemes. It is administered by a separate company, Discovery Health (Pty) Ltd, an authorised financial services provider.

Related articles

Screening tests every woman needs

August is Women's Month and this year's theme is women's rights. One of these rights is to have control of your own health and body. We look at some of the screening tests women need and why.

A woman's guide to cancer screening and prevention tests

Prevention is better than cure. This is what cancer screening tests are about. Used to identify and eliminate common cancers or precancerous conditions early on, so that more advanced cancers can be prevented, these tests can literally save your life.

Cancer and women's health: make sure your lifestyle and finances are protected

From female cancers - like breast, ovarian and cervical - to general cancers, these illnesses are amongst the most serious health issues women face. Why is it critical to make sure your lifestyle and finances are protected in the face of a life-changing illness?

Log in

Please click here to login into Discovery Digital Id

Please click here to login into Discovery Digital Id