Last updated on Sep 1st, 2020 at 08:45 am

Although high-income countries have more incidence of cancer, their recovery rate is a lot higher than that of low-income and developing countries where 70% of cancer deaths occur

According to a medical oncologist, Dr Keo Tabane, a member of Icon Oncology, South Africa’s largest network of private oncologists, one of the main reasons for this high mortality rate can be ascribed to the fact that cancer is often diagnosed at an advanced stage in poorer countries. Dr Keo says access to information plays a huge role in cancer recovery.

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Access to information is a matter of life and death

“We have such a striking disparity between our upper and lower-income communities. Different access to information as well as to preventative, screening and treatment options sadly results in different outcomes along the entrenched socio-economic fault-lines in our society,” she says.

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With longer life expectancy and lifestyle changes amongst lower-income populations, cancer rates are expected to rise. When it comes to cancer, time is of the essence. Women in lower-income communities, often the family’s primary caregivers and breadwinners, must be empowered by increased cancer awareness so that they can play an active role in cancer screening and hopefully prevention.  

More women should be surviving 

The top five cancers affecting women in South Africa are breast, cervical, colorectal, uterine and lung cancer (National Cancer Register 2014), with breast cancer the most common cancer in women of all races. At present 1 in every 27 local women could develop breast cancer. With early diagnosis and swift treatment, most women can survive it.

Several contributing factors lead to an advanced cancer diagnosis, in poorer communities, including:

  • A critical delay between the first recognition of a symptom and the visit to a healthcare provider
  • An over-burdened public health system that results in long waiting periods between a patient’s first visit to a healthcare practitioner and the eventual diagnosis
  • Socio-economic factors such as lack of funds to travel to a public healthcare facility; not being able to afford hours away from wage-earning work and lack of child care
  • Lower education levels and less cancer awareness compared to women from more affluent communities. 

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Educated women are more likely to survive

Women with higher education levels are more likely to consider that their initial symptoms may be cancer. 

“They generally have quicker, smoother journeys to diagnosis. This means that they have more opportunity to recognise potential cancer and access healthcare in the earlier stages of their cancer which can then afford them better outcomes. This link reveals how important it is that our healthcare system prioritises cancer awareness education and healthcare access for South African women in disadvantaged communities,” explains Dr Tabane.

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Making changes at community level

For Icon Oncology, the rising prevalence of cancer and its impact on the health of women signals the need for greater public-private partnerships. By pioneering the patient-centred value-based care (VBC) model, the network of specialists promote a cost-effective, outcomes-based cancer care approach. This will feed into community-based projects aimed at improving cancer treatment, both curative and palliative.

 “What we also need to see is enhanced communications about women’s health, cancer awareness and screening. Opening up communication is essential. Women know their bodies, but feeling disempowered, shy or fearful can have devastating effects on their health. For both health professionals and patients, cancer prevention is the best defense. Openly sharing knowledge and supporting healthy lifestyles empower women to take charge of their health journey,” says Dr Tabane.

Dr Tabane’s top health tips  

  • Eat a healthy diet, rich in grains, vegetables and fruit. Devoid of processed food.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Maintain a healthy weight – obesity is linked to some cancers.
  • Avoid all tobacco products including electronic cigarettes or vaping devices.
  • Limit or avoid alcohol.
  • Get regular health check-ups and screenings available at primary healthcare clinics across the country.
  • Conduct regular breast self-examinations – ask your family planning or healthcare provider to show you how.
  • Cervical cancer is preventable; ensure that girls in your family get the HPV vaccination which will protect them from developing cervical cancer later in life.
  • If you notice persistent symptoms, make sure you visit a healthcare practitioner for early investigation.
  • Sleep – lack of sleep negatively affects the immune system.

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While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.