Dr Natalia Novikova runs through the 5 health checks that women of all ages should keep top of mind.
- Breast cancer checks
In South Africa, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women of all races, according to the 2012 National Cancer Registry (NCR) but it has a high rate of survivorship owing to early detection and treatment. While most breast lumps are harmless, they should always be checked by a medical professional. If caught early enough, localised cancers can be removed without having to remove the entire breast.
A mammogram is a special X-ray for detecting breast lumps. If symptom-free, women should have a mammogram done every second year after the age of 40. ‘Women with a strong family history of breast cancer should ideally see a geneticist to discuss BRCA1 and BRCA2 testing for breast cancer,’ says gynaecologist and endoscopic surgeon Dr Natalia Novikova of Mediclinic Cape Town.
- Ovarian cancer testing
There are various kinds of ovarian cancer, and all are fairly uncommon. ‘Risk factors for ovarian cancer include older age, having one or more relatives with ovarian cancer, having abnormalities in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, being overweight, and never having been pregnant,’ says Dr Novikova.
Unfortunately, most cancers that affect the ovaries are diagnosed in an advanced stage because there are no reliable early signs. Vague and subtle symptoms can include fatigue, abdominal swelling and pain, changes in bladder and bowel habits, and shortness of breath.
‘There are two tests available to screen for ovarian cancer: pelvic ultrasound and a blood test to check for a tumour marker called Ca125. Neither is 100% reliable,’ says Dr Novikova. She adds that the advantage of having the screening test is early detection, but the disadvantage is the chance of unnecessary surgery for something that is not actually cancer. She advises that women with a strong family history of ovarian or breast cancer should see a geneticist to discuss BRCA1/2 testing. The presence of these genetic abnormalities can cause breast or ovarian cancer.
Read the full health checklist on Mediclinic here: