Madonsela said that her sister, who was also living with HIV, had been experiencing symptoms for some time before she succumbed to the cancer in June.
“She was bleeding regularly, and complaining about pains in her vagina and abnormal discharge,” Madonsela said. “The staff from the clinic advised her to screen for cervical cancer, but she refused.”
Her sister became so sick she was eventually admitted to hospital, where doctors diagnosed her with late stage cervical cancer that had spread to other parts of her body. She was transferred to a Pretoria hospital, where she died about a week later.
“I always feel that if she took (everyone’s) advice and screened for cervical cancer, that she would have been diagnosed earlier,” Madonsela told OurHealth. “She could have gotten treatment before it spread.”
Cervical cancer is the second most common form of cancer among South African women after breast cancer. South Africa’s rates of cervical cancer are almost twice as high as the global average. Women living with HIV are at a greater risk for developing the cancer, but Madonsela says that should not stop HIV-negative women regular screening.
“My advise to the women of the country is they must go to their local clinic and screen for cervical cancer before it’s too late regardless of their HIV status,” she said. “(Cervical cancer) doesn’t affect HIV-positive women only”.
Currently, women older than 30 years old who are HIV-negative are only offered three free pap smears – or one Pap smear every ten years – in the public sector. In 2010, South Africa introduced a policy to allow women living with HIV, who are a higher risk of developing cervical cancer, to access pap smears every three years.
*Name changed upon request