A mother is the go-to person in a family. She’s the pillar of strength that everyone can turn to in time of need – from a grazed knee, to a lost sweater and even the dreaded man-flu!

Generally, women have the tendency to put the needs of others ahead of their own. But there is an age-old saying that says: “You can’t pour from an empty cup. Take care of yourself first.”

So, in the spirit of National Women’s Month in August, here are some health issues that women need to remember to keep in check.

The Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) is a strong supporter of the role of women as not only active participants in society and the economy, but also as caretakers who influence the health of the whole family.

To this end, CANSA identifies the ‘Big 5’ cancers that can affect women in South Africa:

  1. Breast Cancer
  2. Cervical Cancer
  3. Colorectal Cancer
  4. Uterine Cancer
  5. Lung Cancer

“Breast and cervical cancers are the two most common cancers affecting South African women,” CANSA says. “The lifetime risk of breast cancer in SA women is 1 in 26˟, and the lifetime risk of cervical cancer in SA women is 1 in 39˟ (˟SA Statistics as per the National Cancer Registry (NCR) 2012).”

According to CANSA, regular breast self-examination plays an important role in discovering breast cancer. CANSA advocates a mammogram every year for women from the age of 40 for purposes of non-symptomatic screening. “Women of 55 years and older should change to having a mammogram every two years.”

The myth that cervical cancer can’t be treated is exactly that… a myth! CANSA confirms that cervical cancer can be effectively treated if detected and diagnosed early.

“Women between the ages of 18 and 25 years who have been sexually active, should have pap smears done every three years, or two years later after (their) first sexual activity – whichever is later, and continue until age 70.”

CANSA reports that the risk for 30% of cancers can be reduced by changing your diet and lifestyle. Lifestyle factors CANSA says that can contribute to the increased risk of colorectal cancer include:

  • Lack of regular exercise
  • Low fruit / vegetable intake
  • Low-fibre and high-fat diet
  • Being overweight
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Insufficient intake of clean, safe water
  • Tobacco use

CANSA notes that risk factors for uterine cancer (cancer of the uterus also referred to as endometrial cancer) can also involve family history, genetics, the inability to fall pregnant, an infrequent menstrual cycle, and oestrogen replacement therapy without use of progesterone.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in men and women worldwide, and smoking counts for the majority of preventable lung cancers, CANSA says. If you want to quit and are looking for help, visit the CANSA website at www.cansa.org.za and learn more about their e-Kick Butt programme.

A CANSA quote says: “Knowledge is like paint. It only serves a purpose once applied.” Heed this worthwhile advice from CANSA:

  • Regular screening is key.
  • You can reduce your risk for cancer by adopting a balanced lifestyle and avoiding environmental carcinogens (cancer causing substances).
  • Be physically active, don’t be overweight, limit your red meat intake and avoid alcohol.
  • Find out from your healthcare practitioner or contact CANSA or visit their website at www.cansa.org.za to find out how you can lower your risk.