Breast and cervical cancer symptom awareness in South Africa
Prof Jennifer Moodley
Title of the project
Breast and cervical cancer symptom awareness in South Africa.
Breast and cervical cancer are the leading causes of cancer morbidity and mortality among women in South Africa (SA), with the majority of patients presenting with late stage disease. Studies have shown that for symptomatic cancer shorter time to presentation to a health care provider is associated with early stage disease and a better prognosis. Hence understanding processes related to cancer symptom awareness and responses to symptoms are important in developing interventions to promote earlier cancer diagnosis. Accurate measurement of cancer symptom awareness and beliefs will allow for the identification of knowledge and beliefs that need to be targeted in interventions. The main objectives of this project are to measure community breast and cervical cancer awareness and beliefs in urban and rural setting in SA using a locally validated measurement tool; assess how symptom overlap with common infectious diseases influences interpretation of cancer symptoms; and explore factors associated with primary health care provider interpretation and management of breast and cervical cancer signs and symptoms. Quantitative and qualitative research methods will be used to meet the study objectives. Findings will contribute to the evidence base for the development of future interventions to promote timely diagnosis of symptomatic breast and cervical cancer in SA.
Cancer knowledge can be assessed using unprompted questions e.g. can you name as many risk factors of breast cancer that you know of, or, using prompted questions e.g. do you think that a lump in the breast is a sign of breast cancer. We conducted a comparison of women’s prompted and unprompted recall of women’s knowledge of breast and cervical cancer risk factors and symptoms, using data collected as part of a questionnaire validation process. Our initial results show that when using prompted questions recognition of the classical breast and cervical cancer symptoms was high with, most women acknowledging the presence of a lump (96%) and smelly vaginal discharge (87%) as probable signs of breast and cervical cancer respectively. However, a large proportion of women could not recall most symptoms when unprompted. Unprompted recognition of breast and cervical cancer risk factors was consistently higher for prompted versus unprompted questions. Data analysis is ongoing.