When last did you test for these three Big-Cs

Cervical, breast and prostate cancers can be treated, especially when diagnosed early

Thursday, July 9 2020

Cervical, breast and prostate cancer are among the more common types of cancer and are increasingly affecting younger people in South Africa. Many younger people still have the misconception that only older people get cancer, whereas these days we are seeing increasing numbers of individuals in their 30s and early 40s being affected, oncologist Dr Karen Motilall advises.

“I cannot emphasise enough that early detection can make an enormous difference and that many cancers are now curable if they are detected early, with various treatment options we can explore,” says Dr Motilall, a specialist clinical and radiation oncologist who practises at Netcare Clinton, Netcare Union and Netcare Mulbarton hospitals, south of Johannesburg.

“While there are certain warning signs that may indicate the presence of cancer, by the time symptoms appear, the cancer may have already started to spread, which can make treatment more difficult. It is therefore important to reduce our risk factors where possible, and get into the routine of having regular check-ups and encouraging our loved ones to do the same.”

“Treatment may involve surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy including Gamma Knife radiosurgery, or any combination of these options, depending on the type of cancer, stage of cancer, the individual’s age and overall health, as well as their personal choice. We explore the options with each person to explain the benefits, side effects and potential risks, so that the individual has the information they need to make an informed decision about their treatment in consultation with their treating oncologist,” she notes.

Radiation therapy involves the use of high-energy rays, which damage the DNA in cells to either kill the cancer cells or stop new cancer cells from forming. While radiation can cause some damage to healthy cells in the area around the cancerous tumour or lesion, the advanced technology that we use today at Netcare oncology centres are highly targeted to the cancerous cells to minimise damage to healthy tissue.

Dr Motilall explains that radiation therapy can be administered either internally or externally. “External radiation therapy involves the person lying on a treatment table under the radiation machine, and the therapy is delivered to the specific area of the body where the cancer is located. The rest of the body is shielded from the radiation to prevent unnecessary exposure.”

Netcare Clinton Hospital’s oncology centre offers external radiation therapy through external beam radiation therapy, intensity modulated radiotherapy (IMRT) and image guided radiation therapy (IGRT). The different types of radiation therapy refer to the method in which the radiation is delivered to the tumour or lesion. The radiation oncologist, medical physicist and radiation therapist work together in a multi-disciplinary team to determine which type of radiation would be the most appropriate treatment option for each individual.

“Internal radiation or brachytherapy places radioactive material inside the body either directly on the tumour or near it. Internal radiation therapy has applications for cervical, prostate, perianal, breast, lung, head and neck cancers. Prostate brachytherapy is available at Netcare Union and Netcare Mulbarton hospitals,” Dr Motilall explains.

Multi-disciplinary teams of healthcare professionals at Netcare Clinton Hospital’s oncology centre are involved in the diagnosis, clinical assessment, counselling, treatment and psychosocial support. The centre offers surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, and provides the specialised care required for paediatric oncology patients.

Netcare furthermore has a unique service for patients namely navigators, who assist patients in coordinating their care to ensure a smooth transition from one phase of treatment to the next. These specially trained nurses serve as the point of communication between the patient and the various medical and allied healthcare professionals who are involved in their treatment.

Dr Cindy Aitton, head of Netcare’s Cancer Care Division, says Netcare embraces a holistic approach to cancer treatment that emphasises the unique requirements of each individual.

“We strive to provide each person with all-round support, while remaining respectful of the deeply personal journey of each and every person who has been diagnosed with and is undergoing treatment for cancer. We recognise that every person will have their own way of coping, and our approach is to offer not only world-class clinical treatments but also caring, professional guidance that is empathetic to patients’ individual needs,” she concludes.

Symptoms, risks and testing for three common cancers

Cervical cancer

Symptoms that may be associated with cervical cancer include unexplained weight loss, abnormal vaginal bleeding such as between menstrual periods or after sexual intercourse, persistent pelvic pain or lower back pain, and swelling in one leg.

Increased risk factors include smoking, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), human papillomavirus (HPV), a promiscuous male sexual partner or having many sexual partners and sex at a young age, among others.

“While the HPV vaccine has helped to protect women from certain strains associated with cervical cancer, it is important to note that the vaccine does not provide full protection and girls who have had the HPV vaccine should still have regular PAP screenings,” Dr Motilall says.

There are a number of options for treating dysplasia, which means there are abnormal and potentially pre-cancerous cells present, and it is often possible to prevent the development of cervical cancer if the condition is detected at this early stage.

Breast cancer

A lump or swelling in the breast, changes to the appearance or texture of the skin on the breast or nipple, nipple discharge or pain in the breast are potential signs of breast cancer.

Apart from smoking, other risk factors include obesity, drinking alcohol, hormone replacement therapy or use of the contraceptive pill, early onset of menstruation or menopause after the age of 55. In addition, a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, previous radiation therapy, having children after the age of 30, or not having a full term pregnancy are also associated with increased risk for breast cancer.

“Regular breast examinations, including both self-examinations and professional examinations, as well as mammograms particularly from the age of 40, are integral to the early detection of possible breast cancer.”

Prostate cancer

Symptoms include more frequent or difficulty urinating, a sensation of the urine flow being blocked, or the presence of blood in urine or semen and should be immediately investigated.

Risk factors include age, obesity and family history of cancer, particularly prostate cancer.

“Men should have regular digital rectal examinations, and prostate-specific androgen tests so that if cancer is detected, we can take the necessary steps to treat it and prevent its spread as early as possible.”


For more information on Netcare Cancer Care and cancer services provided at Netcare hospitals, please visit, contact us on (011) 301 0000 or via email at [email protected]

Issued by:    Martina Nicholson Associates (MNA) on behalf of Netcare Clinton Hospital
Contact:              Martina Nicholson, Graeme Swinney and Meggan Saville
Telephone:    (011) 469 3016
Email:        [email protected], [email protected] or [email protected]