It's not too late to make Pap smears and STI screening part of your health regime...
Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer among South African women after breast cancer. Although it's a curable disease, if detected and treated in its early stages, more than 3 400 local women die from it every year, according to the Medical Research Council.

"We urge all women over 30 to go for regular Pap smears so that if they have signs of cancer of the cervix, they can go for treatment," says Martha Molete, head of Communication and Advocacy at the Cancer Association of SA (CANSA's) national office. In fact, you should be having an annual Pap smear as soon as you become sexually active. And if you're not in a monogamous relationship or are having unprotected sex, have STI screening at the same time.

Remember, STIs like gonorrhoea and chlamydia often exhibit no symptoms at all. If left untreated, however, they can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, a very serious condition, as well as problems with fertility.

It's not too late to check your breasts...
Yes, it's a drag, and perhaps you don't feel very confident of your skills, but breast self-examination (BSE) – every month – is an absolute must. "All women must check their breasts each month and women over 40 should have an annual mammogram in order to catch breast cancer early and save their own lives," says Martha Molete.

"In the past, breast cancer mostly affected women over 40, but we're seeing younger and younger women presenting with it," she adds.

And if you're not sure how to examine your breasts, call CANSA or ask your GP, clinic sister or gynaecologist.

Image: Neville Lockhart