Cancer education in vernacular is key to successful diagnosis and treatment

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among South African women of all races – aside from non-melanoma skin cancer – yet many poor and rural women lack access to information and services that could lead to speedy diagnosis and treatment of this disease. This is one of the major challenges South Africa’s healthcare sector must face up to in Breast Cancer Awareness month (October).

That’s the word from Dr. Zukiswa Jafta, founder of the Beat Cancer Foundation, who says that far too many breast cancer patients from rural areas feel isolated because they do not have access to medical practitioners who understand their culture or speak their language. Many others present themselves for treatment too late because they don’t recognise the warning signs of cancer and fail to seek help in its early stages. This results in unnecessary suffering and loss of life since early diagnosis is the key to more favourable treatment outcomes. According to the 2014 National Cancer Registry (NCR), South African women have a lifetime risk of 1 in 27 of suffering from breast cancer. In 2013, deaths from breast cancer accounted for 0.7% of all deaths in South African, per the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA).

“Poor people without access to quality healthcare facilities near their homes or medical aid are especially vulnerable,” says Dr. Jafta, who founded the Beat Cancer Foundation to deliver culturally appropriate healthcare services and information to communities in the Eastern Cape. “We must take a holistic approach to help prevent, treat and manage cancer among these communities. It is important to not only support cancer patients and their families with quality care, but also to provide them with education that will help them make lifestyle choices that reduce their risk of cancer.”

Dr. Jafta says that self-screening is the way that many women identify that they might have breast cancer before they present to a doctor for an examination. This entails a woman examining her breasts to check for lumps and other abnormalities. “It tends to be easier for women who are literate to follow instructions and demonstrations,” she adds. “For illiterate women in rural communities, demonstrations on self-breast examination becomes a huge task that starts from teaching them anatomy of their own breast. “We have to overcome issues of access to their areas by travelling long distances across poor roads to remote areas to conduct cancer awareness programmes. Once there, we communicate in their language to help them recognise the signs and symptoms of breast cancer, why it’s important to screen for it, and why they shouldn’t ignore a painless lump.”

The Foundation has rolled out screening programmes for more than 20 Eastern Cape communities in the OR Tambo District Municipality and Alfred Nzo Municipality over the past two years. These efforts have helped to identify potential cancer symptoms among dozens of patients, who were referred for medical care. The Foundation works hand-in-glove with traditional leaders on its programmes and conducts sessions in local languages. It also invites breast cancer survivors to share their experiences. “We take care offering a one-stop solution to speed up diagnosis of breast cancer. it is possible to catch the disease and offer curative treatment,” Dr. Jafta says.


About the Beat Cancer Foundation

The Beat Cancer Foundation (BCF) is a non-profit organisation (NPO) deeply rooted in the Eastern Cape, founded by black female professionals in July 2017. It is mainly promoting cancer awareness, and advocating for early diagnosis in order to save lives.