Breast and cervical cancer screening
Breast and cervical cancer are the most common cancers among South African women, with cervical cancer affecting one out of 41 women. These alarming statistics can be reduced, and even prevented through adherence to recommended cervical screening pathways in line with identified risk factors to help detect abnormal cells before they develop into cancer.
The risk of developing breast and cervical cancer increases with age, with most cases occurring in women older than 50. Certain risk factors have been identified that can still result in the early onset of these cancers. For breast cancer, these may include a genetic predisposition and a strong family history, while HIV infection is implicated in cervical cancer.
It is therefore vital to understand your individual risk for all cancers, so you can follow an appropriate screening plan. “Early detection of breast and cervical cancer is associated with successful treatment outcomes and increased survival rates of up to 95%,” said Dr Noluthando Nematswerani, Head of the Centre for Clinical Excellence at Discovery Health.
The Screening and Prevention Benefit offered to medical schemes, administered by Discovery Health, provides cover for mammograms and Pap smears, among other tests. In the interest of early detection of breast and cervical cancer, this benefit pays for one mammogram every two years and one Pap smear every three years for people with a low- to average-risk of developing these cancers. “Those who are considered high-risk for developing breast or cervical cancer have cover for a yearly mammogram and Pap smear through this benefit,” added Dr Nematswerani.
Are you a high-risk patient?
Dr Nematswerani explained that a high-risk patient for developing cervical cancer will be anyone with an abnormal Pap smear test result or a person who is infected with HIV.
In the case of breast cancer screening, she said it is anyone with a personal or strong family history of breast cancer. A strong family history would include breast cancer occurring in direct relatives like a mother and/or sister. It is also anyone with a genetic predisposition to breast cancer who tested positive for BRCA gene mutation. Dr Nematswerani stated that specific ethnicities, for example, Jewish people from Eastern or Central European descent and women of Dutch descent, have also been known to have a greater genetic predisposition to develop breast cancer.
Globally, one in every eight women will get breast cancer. It is therefore important to know what to look out for. Dr Nematswerani urged that consultation with a medical professional is critical, if symptoms and signs, such as pain, irritation, itchiness, a lump, thickening or swollen skin, a change in breast size or how the breast feels, are present.
In the case of cervical cancer, she explained that abnormal vaginal bleeding is the most common symptom. A Pap smear helps identify the presence of any abnormal cells in the cervix (mouth of the womb) which is treatable when detected early.
She said, “The importance of regular screening cannot be emphasised enough. Through regular screening, and a greater awareness of risk factors for developing these cancers, early professional assessment can help save a life.”
The Screening and Prevention Benefit in short
It pays for one mammogram every two years and one Pap smear every three years for women at average-risk of developing cancer. Those at high-risk of breast or cervical cancer have cover for the relevant screenings each year. Those who are at high-risk of developing cancer also have access to genetic testing (BRCA) and MRI scans, where clinically necessary.
On diagnosis of cancer, all medical scheme members have access to oncology benefits. Oncology benefits for members of Discovery Health Medical Scheme are comprehensive and cover consultations and appropriate treatment.