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Wednesday, 16 November 2022 14:32

Early detection a lifesaver for Breast and Prostate Cancer in SA.

By Lehlohonolo Lehana.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

Finding and effectively treating any form of cancer at an early stage is of paramount importance for increasing one's chances of survival. Regular screening, especially for men and women over 40 years old, is one of the mechanisms recommended by specialists to detect the disease before it has a chance to spread.  

With the international community having just commemorated Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, and as we enter 'Movember' to raise awareness around men’s health, it is important to address the prevailing stigma associated with cancer by promoting regular screening and awareness.

The 2019 National Cancer Registry (NCR) estimates that one in every 27 South African women are at risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. Similarly, one i every 23 South African men will develop prostate cancer in their lifetime, with five men succumbing to the disease every day on average. These are the two most prevalent types of cancer affecting women and men in the country.

These alarming figures are also reflected in the claims paid by South African insurers. Liberty's most recent Claim Statistics, for example, show that in 2021, cancer was second to COVID-19 related claims (only 0.5% separating the two). Of all cancer claims, breast cancer and prostate cancer were the most prevalent (a third of all cancer claims) in women and men, respectively.

There are, however, ways to mitigate the risk of death or severe illness as a result of cancer.

According to Cancer Research UK, the survival rate for people with eight of the most common cancers is more than three times higher when the disease is diagnosed early. Their data found that ten-year survival is more than 90% for people whose cancer is diagnosed at stage one, compared with 5% for those whose disease is found at stage four.

"Women and men over 45 need to be a lot more aware of breast and prostate cancer, with diagnosis rates climbing after this age. We're not alone though, worldwide the incidence of breast and prostate cancer is also high and climbing annually," said Liberty's Chief Medical Officer, Dr Dominique Stott.

"The risk factors for breast cancer are numerous and still the subject of research. It is thought to be connected to obesity, with 70% of women in South Africa currently classified as overweight or obese. Added to this are other factors such as alcohol use, long term hormone replacement therapy, not breastfeeding, and having fewer children."

Stott said there are also genetic links to breast cancer, which means one’s chances of getting breast cancer are increased if their mother, grandmother, or anyone connected by birth has had it.

"Currently there is nothing you can do to prevent breast cancer, but early detection makes an enormous difference, and this includes being aware of changes in your own body. Along with a yearly mammogram, a routine of monthly self-checking for lumps or areas of tenderness in the breast area can make a difference," said Stott.

Prostate cancer, on the other hand, only affects men, usually over the age of 50. The older a man becomes, the more likely the onset of the disease, especially if there is a genetic history in the family.

"Your risk of prostate cancer increases as you age, and for reasons we are still determining, Black men are at greater risk. It is important to remember that there are no links between prostate cancer and an active sex life, vasectomy, masturbation, or circumcision. Screening for prostate cancer should be done upon the advice of your doctor, and includes a simple blood test, 'said Stott.

Those concerned about being diagnosed with cancer and the possible financial impact  long-term recovery could have on their lifestyle should speak to a financial adviser about getting the right kind of cover, such as critical illness cover, which would be able to support them, should this become a reality.

Due to the increasing prevalence of cancer, South African insurers are doing more to raise awareness and mitigate future risks by helping their clients prepare for both the true impact and cost of cancer treatment and other related measures of prevention and screening.

Recently, Liberty partnered with the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) to help raise awareness about the disease. The partnership includes sponsoring of mobile screening clinics in communities, as well as helping to educate people about early detection.

"By educating people about the symptoms, the need for screening and testing, and the long-term treatment and recovery process and costs associated with cancer, we can alleviate stigmas associated with the disease and save the lives of thousands of people through early detection, "said Stott.