Cancer screening can help save lives

cancer screening
Health matters with Thandeka Moyo
“What you don’t know may actually kill you.”

This statement was uttered by Dr Tatenda Chingonzoh while expressing how disappointed she was in members of the public who are reluctant to seek cancer screening.

As head of the radiotherapy department of the recently opened Mpilo Central Hospital Cancer Unit, she says citizens were still unaware of how rewarding early cancer detection is to the quality of life and to the general public.

Cancer has over the years overtaken HIV which many of us are still reluctant to test for. Unlike HIV which can be controlled by adherence to anti-retroviral therapy (ART), cancer treatment is very expensive and toxic especially when presented very late.

Breast cancer is the leading death-causing cancer in women while in men prostate cancer has claimed the lives of many.

However, over the past few years, cervical cancer continues to dominate reported cases and deaths from cancer in Zimbabwe.

“When I get stage one and two cancer, I celebrate because those are the ones that you can cure with highest chances of success. We give treatment; whether chemotherapy or radiotherapy with the aim of treating and we can contain the cancer at that stage,” says Dr Chingonzoh.

“With stage three, you can try but stage four cancer is just palliative and the least you can do is make the patient comfortable and treat symptoms.”

She thinks early detection and awareness may help save a lot of lives especially rural folks whose clinics have no expertise on pathology and other services.

“Because many of the patients are from our rural areas, sometimes they visit rural hospitals but the expertise for diagnosis is not there. Such services can only be found at central hospitals.”

Dr Chingonzoh acknowledges that many may not afford to travel to central hospitals regularly although they must always make the most of available services to screen for cancer.

“Some women feel lumps in their breasts and they like to wait till the breast is swollen. When they present themselves at such an advanced stage, we can only give them palliative treatment,” she says.

“Awareness is still necessary especially to address some of the cultural beliefs that people have about cancer. To some cancer is a death sentence and communities do not think they can get cured of the disease.”

She adds that it is time we all went out and publicised cancer.

“There is a lot of stigma and people just have that fear that if you get diagnosed, you may be judged. Mpilo, which caters for the southern region and includes Masvingo and Midlands province is also working towards reviving the mammogram.”

A mammogram is an x-ray picture of the breast. It can be used to check for breast cancer in women who have no signs or symptoms of the disease.

“We have VIAC for cervical cancer but women are afraid to come for screening because people still have this idea that what you don’t know won’t kill you. In fact what you don’t know will kill you!”

Cervical cancer screening via the Papanicolau (Pap) test or the Visual Inspection with Acetic Acid and Camera (VIAC) are effective for detecting early abnormal or cancer cells in the cervix and  uterus. The Pap and VIAC tests are recommended for women from the time they become sexually                         active.

So, considering that we do have thousands who are sexually active, why do we shun cancer screening?

Last time I checked, these services were offered for free in public hospitals hence no one can give an excuse for why they haven’t been screened for cancer.

Our health seeking behaviour as a nation and a community surely needs reviving. We need to come to a point where we overcome the fear of the unknown and seek these services.

We can live without knowing who is chatting with our spouses or partners behind our backs on social media because the details may cause unnecessary distress and heartaches.

However, when it comes to cancer and all the silent killer diseases which are slowly taking the lives of the young and old, all of us must be curious.

And to those of us who are quick to judge and comment negatively on people’s conditions, I say they too must go for check-ups in case they or their loved one has contracted one of the diseases. Stigma begins with one person and spreads to the next until it becomes a part of us.

A mere uninformed comment about cancer can deter your family and friends from seeking healthcare which results in many who would rather be walking graves than face scans and tests because they are afraid of the labels we give them.

For the record, cancer is not caused by witchcraft or a curse of juju as many of us want to believe.

In fact, it is a malignant growth or tumour caused by abnormal and uncontrolled cell division.

Recent studies have also linked cancer to our diet hence the need for us to make wise decisions about what we eat.

I am sure one day we will make some time to discuss some of the foods we can invest in to reduce the risk of cancer in our lives. Before we call it a day, I just want to remind you that the Mpilo Cancer Unit is there for us and we can’t die of cancer with such resources at our disposal.

Let’s take time to visit and support that friend or family member with cancer and be the ray of light in their lives. Cancer can be cured and it will take you and me to seek healthcare today.

Looking forward to your feedback on thandekaamoyo@gmail.com.

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