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By Citizen Reporter


Discovery: Cancer most common illness among SA women

Second to cancer, nervous system and cardiovascular conditions are the most concerning illnesses among South African women.

Data from Discovery Life has revealed that cancer is the most common severe illness among South African women.

Second to cancer, the claims data showed that nervous system and cardiovascular conditions are the next most concerning illnesses among South African women.

“During the last period of reporting for Discovery Life (2020) more than 54% of our severe illness claims from women were cancer claims,” said Discovery Life Chief Medical Officer Dr Maritha van der Walt.

“Claims for conditions of the nervous system such as strokes and multiple sclerosis totalled around 15% of severe illness claims during the 2020 period. Heart conditions amounted to approximately 7% of our severe illness claims for women,” said van der Walt.

As many as 29% of disability claims made by women during 2020 were also as a result of cancer, followed by 19% due to nervous system conditions and 17% related to mental and behavioural conditions, underscoring the need for interventions and proactive care in these areas.

“This is tragic because many of the risk factors of cancer and cardiovascular conditions in women are preventable or manageable. 

“We need to be doing more to advocate for healthy behaviour, prevention and proactive screening,” adds van der Walt.

Early detection of cancer is crucially important

Despite a variety of claims in 2020, cancer remained the predominant cause of death among women.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, followed by colon, lung, and ovarian cancer.

During the last two years, many people were not able to have their regular screenings, including regular mammograms, pap smears and other examinations.

“We would like to encourage everyone to prioritise this now, as early detection is the greatest factor in successfully treating and recovering from cancer,” said van der Walt.

“Early stages of breast cancer, generally have a very good prognosis,” she adds.

Breast cancer accounts for 46% of female-related cancers.

The second-largest cause of death among Discovery Life women clients is cardiovascular conditions, comprising 18% of death claims. The third-highest category of death claims for women is respiratory system conditions, followed by secondary infections which included those who died from Covid-19.

“Infections, including Covid-19, as the cause of death comprised about 3% of Discovery Life’s death claims for females in 2019. During 2020, this increased to 10%, attributable to Covid-19. 

“Current evidence suggests that women are also at higher risk of suffering from long Covid. This drives home the importance of everyone getting vaccinated to avoid what are eminently preventable hospitalisations and deaths,” explains van der Walt.

Infections were also the leading cause of Income Continuation Benefit (ICB) claims among women in 2020.

Cancer-related death claims can be prevented

Although cancer is still the leading cause of death, early screening, medical technology and better treatment mean that mortality is on a downward trend and the percentage of death claims has decreased over the last few years of reporting.

“We can see that the proportion of female deaths resulting from cancer has declined significantly during the 2018 to 2020 period compared to the years between 2015 and 2017.

“This decrease amounts to 16% fewer cancer-related death claims,” said van der Walt.

Compiled by Narissa Subramoney

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