Awareness of cancer
The challenge in South Africa is to create a greater awareness of cancer under the general population to understand the warning signs that may be caused by cancer. The earlier cancer is diagnosed, the better the result of treatment.

The 4th of February of this year is dedicated to World Cancer Day. The theme for the 2022 World Cancer Day is “Close the Care Gap”. This theme refers to the ability of people to access care with specific reference to cancer – access to be screened, access to be diagnosed and access to be treated. But then also to be treated in an equitable way which means that all people – rich or poor -need to have access to treatment modalities with the potential to cure cancer.

Cynthia Morton, CEO of the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer is quoted as follows: “World Cancer Day unites the cancer community and showcases the global commitment to accelerate efforts to ensure equitable access to high-quality cancer care for everyone.”


Cancer is a group of diseases where the normal growth of cells in the body is dysregulated and starts to grow abnormally and uncontrollably. If not diagnosed early, these abnormal cells may also spread to other parts of the body and cause the various symptoms related to cancer and makes it more difficult to cure the primary cancer. Cancer knows no boundaries in terms of women, men, or children. It can occur at any age. Reality is that the number of new cases diagnosed increase as the average age of the population increases. Generally, cancer is divided into two broad categories: Solid tumors, for example cancer of the breast, the lung and the colon which accounts for 90% of all cancers; or cancers of the blood or lymph nodes (hematological cancers) which includes leukemia, myeloma, and lymphoma which accounts for 10% of cancers.

People are generally afraid of a diagnosis of cancer because the cause is unknown, because the cancer is frequently diagnosed late which limits the chances of a cure and therefore limits life expectancy or because of the symptoms associated with cancer, of which pain is frequently most feared.

The number of new cases of cancer diagnosed each year in South Africa is estimated to be 210 for every 100 000 people in our country. The new cases of cancer diagnosed for South Africa of all kinds of cancers for 2020 was estimated at 108 168 with breast, prostate, colon, cervical and lung cancer responsible for 51% of all cancers diagnosed. This number of new cases is increasing every year mainly due to two factors namely our population living longer and getting older, and general lifestyle issues & urbanisation. The number of people who are managed and living with cancer at any given time is about double that of the new cases and estimated at 262 455. The number of deaths due to cancer was estimated at about 57 000 for 2020.


The challenge in South Africa is to create a greater awareness of cancer under the general population to understand the warning signs that may be caused by cancer. The earlier cancer is diagnosed, the better the result of treatment.

The reality is that more than one third of cancer cases can be prevented and another third of cancers can be cured if diagnosed and treated early. The challenge therefore is to reduce the risk factors for developing cancer as well as to adhere to screening examinations for cancer that is now well researched. These include PAP smears for cancer of the cervix, mammograms for breast cancer and PSA tests to detect cancer of the prostate.

Do however not underestimate the importance of taking responsibility for your own health and making lifestyle changes that are relevant in the prevention of cancer. This is the power of prevention.
It includes:

  • Stop cigarette smoking (tobacco use) that can cause not only lung cancer but has been proven to increase chances for other cancers
  • Maintain a healthy diet with lots of salads, fruits, and vegetables and reduced in fat.
  • Maintaining a lean body with normal weight or BMI – obesity is a risk factor
  • Regular exercise
  • Moderate alcohol consumption
  • The avoidance of excessive sun exposure which can cause skin cancer including malignant melanoma

For the early detection of cancer, it is also important to visit your doctor with any unexplained changes in your health – do not procrastinate. If you develop a lump, a cough, unexplained bleeding, weight loss or tiredness, any changes in the shape or size of a mole on your skin, or persistent unexplained headaches, see your family doctor as soon as possible. The diagnosis may be that it is not cancer but for early detection, it is important to make sure.


The progress made in what is known about cancer today as well as the progress made in medical science in terms of the early diagnosis and treatment of cancer results in many more lives saved every year and cancer survivors are on the increase.

If the theme for the Cancer Awareness Day for 2022, “Close the Care Gap”, is considered, we in South Africa, both in the public and private health sector, are fortunate to have brilliant specialists treating cancer including surgeons, oncologists, and nuclear physicians. Add the latest technologies including modern radiation therapy equipment, advances in nuclear medicine, chemotherapeutic and biological medicines to beat cancer that all South Africans have access to, we can feel safe that if you are diagnosed with cancer, the health system can provide quality cancer care. To assist these specialists to achieve better outcomes, the earlier the diagnosis and referral to them, the better.

So be aware of cancer, talk to your doctor about screening schedules for cancer and change your lifestyle to reduce the probability of developing cancer. If cancer is detected early there is hope. To a large extent this early detection is dependent on your awareness of cancer and response to prevention, screening and consulting your doctor with any unexplained changes in your health.

Dr Martin de Villiers is the Medical Director at Medwell SA, The Home Health Care Specialists. For more information visit

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