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Knowing the Big Five that Assail South African Women

Afrikaanse Persvrystelling

1 October 2017: The link between the Big 5 and South African women has nothing to do with our country’s magnificent wildlife legacy, but rather everything to do with the disease, cancer, that plays havoc with South Africa’s sisterhood.

With October being Women’s Health Awareness month, the CANSA highlights the five leading types of cancer that indiscriminately afflict women in South Africa – breast, cervical, colorectal, uterine, and lung cancer. View infographics…

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While access to good healthcare for all, would be a significant contributing factor to lowering cancer deaths and improving outcomes, CANSA firmly believes in sharing awareness and knowledge, and in how this strategy can go a long way in lowering cancer risk and improving the overall disease landscape in the country.

Elize Joubert, CANSA CEO states, “Early detection and diagnosis, reduces the severity of the disease and also decreases the mortality rate. Research has shown that a regular breast self-examination plays an important role in discovering breast cancer, compared to finding a breast lump by chance.”

Both breast and cervical cancer have been identified as a national priority with increasing incidences occurring.

The Big 5 Cancers

Approximately 19.4 million women aged 15 years and older live at-risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer – the cancer affecting women in South Africa the most. In 2013, deaths from breast cancer and cancers of the female genital tract, accounted for 0.7% and 1% of all deaths in South African respectively.¹

¹Vorobiof D, Sitas F, Vorobiof G. Breast cancer incidence in South Africa. Journal of Clinical Oncology 2001 (September 15 Supplement); Vol 19, No. 18s: 125s -127s

“We encourage all women to conduct regular self-examinations once a month. CANSA advocates a mammogram every year for all women from age 40 for purposes of non-symptomatic breast screening. Women 55 years and older should change to having a mammogram every two years – or have the choice to continue with an annual mammogram. Know how your breasts look and feel – discuss any changes you observe with your health practitioner. And get to know the warning signs or symptoms.” Joubert added.

The Radiological Society of South Africa (RSSA) are offering a special mammography reduced fee at all RSSA affiliated mammography clinics throughout the country, during October – download participating practices…

The second most common cancer amongst women in South Africa is cervical cancer caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). CANSA strongly recommends all women who have been sexually active should start having Pap smears between the ages of 18 and 20 years, and Pap smears may cease at the age of 70 years if the individual has had two normal Pap smears within the last five years. Pap smears tests are uncomfortable but painless – they help lower the risk of cervical cancer, not just detect it early. When abnormal cells are identified and removed, in many cases it is prior to cancer cells actually developing.

Colorectal cancer or colon cancer is the third most common cancer affecting women in SA. CANSA continues to appeal to women to get to know their bodies and start looking out for any telling signs and symptoms that may reveal this hidden scourge. Change in bowel habits (diarrhoea / constipation), rectal bleeding or blood in stools and persistent abdominal discomfort (cramps, gas or pain) are among some of the warning symptoms of colorectal cancer.

Millicent Mulelu, colorectal cancer survivor, says although a cancer diagnosis can have a profound impact on one’s life and those around you, it should not be regarded as a death warrant. “There are ways to beat the condition but you need to remain optimistic, resilient and never give up hope, because only hope will see you through.”

Cancer of the uterus, also known as endometrial cancer or uterine cancer is number four of the most common cancers affecting women occurring in the tissue of the endometrium which is the lining of the uterus. Joubert explains, “Again, we advise that should any of the following warning signs appear, they should be investigated further by a medical practitioner – abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge; and pain in the pelvis or abdomen especially when urinating or during sexual intercourse. Early detection is key and leads to better treatment outcomes.”

And then there is lung cancer that occupies position five. Statistics reveal that the more a person smokes, the greater the risk of developing lung cancer. It’s also more likely to develop in people who start smoking at a young age. However, if someone stops smoking, the risk of developing lung cancer falls dramatically and after approximately 15 years, the chance of developing the disease is similar to that of a non-smoker.

CANSA Screening Helps Reduce Cancer Risk

By paying greater attention to the ‘Big Five’, women will be better prepared to reduce their personal cancer risk and avoid the physical and emotional impact that can accompany a cancer diagnosis.

“We recognise the role of women as societal and economic participants, as well as caretakers, who influence the health of the whole family. Clinical Breast Examinations, Pap smears and Healthy Lifestyle Risk Assessments are all offered at CANSA Care Centres country-wide to increase early detection. We also support patients and their families through counselling and support groups,” concluded Joubert.

CANSA also has various Mobile Health Clinics which offer screening to people in communities who do not have easy access to health screening. During October, people can participate in a CANSA ‘Shades of Pink’ Walk to raise awareness about cancers affecting women and funds to help CANSA in its screening and support efforts for women.


CANSA offers a unique integrated service to the public and to all people affected by cancer. CANSA is a leading role-player in cancer research (more than R12 million spent annually) and the scientific findings and knowledge gained from our research are used to realign our health programmes, as well as strengthen our watchdog role to the greater benefit of the public.

Our health programmes comprise health and education campaigns; CANSA Care Centres that offer a wide range of care and support services to those affected by cancer; stoma and other clinical support and organisational management; medical equipment hire, as well as a toll-free line to offer information and support.

We also supply patient care and support in the form of 11 CANSA Care Homes in the main metropolitan areas for out-of-town cancer patients; a Wellness Centre based in Polokwane; and CANSA-TLC lodging for parents and guardians of children undergoing cancer treatment.

Queries CANSA

Visit or contact CANSA toll-free on 0800 22 66 22 or email – follow CANSA on Facebook | Twitter | Instagram. CANSA offers multi-lingual support on WhatsApp: 0721979305 for English and Afrikaans, and 0718673530 for Xhosa, Zulu, Sotho and Siswati.


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