South Africa, 2 April 2024: King Charles and now Catherine, Princess of Wales’, recent cancer diagnoses are a reminder of the vital importance of routine health checks. While the King received an ‘incidental’ cancer diagnosis during his prostate treatment, the Princess underwent abdominal surgery with a tissue analysis test revealing a cancer diagnosis. Dr Genevieve Barry, Medical Adviser at Sanlam, says people should prioritise their annual health checks as early detection and diagnosis can dramatically improve outcomes.

Dr Barry adds, “Health checks are a proactive, long-term commitment that fosters early disease detection, which improves one’s chances of successful treatment and recovery. They also often mean chronic conditions are identified sooner, which enables better disease management and an improved quality of life earlier on. Additionally, feeling more in control by actively managing your health brings peace of mind and reduces stress.”

Here, Dr Barry delves into some of the big questions around routine health checks:

  1. What should men do more of? Often the emphasis is on cancer checks for women – starting with breast self-examinations in one’s twenties, pap smears from as early as 21, and getting annual mammograms or ultrasounds from 35 on – and less so on men. King Charles’ diagnosis is a reminder that men need to prioritise their health too, through annual prostate exams from age 40, for example. Skin screenings are vital for everyone, especially as melanomas rank fifth among the most common cancers in men and sixth among women.
  2. Do routine checks make a difference? Studies have shown that abstaining from health checks is a significant predictor of advanced cancer diagnoses. Many cancers have a high chance of cure if diagnosed and treated appropriately early on. Regular checks do make a difference. Knowing your health status means you can prepare yourself mentally and financially and put the necessary plans in place.
  3. Why don’t people get screened more? There are three categories of barriers – the individual, the patients, and the providers and systems involved in healthcare services. In South Africa, affordability constraints remain one of the highest healthcare barriers. Then there’s the stigma of seeking healthcare services like psychiatric support, especially for younger people. Disabilities are another big barrier; it’s often extremely difficult for people with mobility constraints to access healthcare providers. Transport costs can also be prohibitive. Overcoming these barriers means looking at solutions across all three domains, in the public and private sectors.We have seen progress with the state reprioritising primary healthcare services to bring these directly into communities. There have also been positive leaps in terms of the proliferation of screening services for HIV and TB, for example. The pandemic-prompted acceleration of digital health services is also an encouraging development in overcoming cost constraints and making virtual consultations and remote monitoring more accessible to all.
  4. How can I plan for unexpected medical costs? Without a royal bank account, curveball medical costs can derail one’s finances. Medical aid products and insurance benefits can make a big difference when it counts. Insurance cover includes myriad life insurance products that pay out in the event of a severe illness such as cancer, a heart attack or stroke, and for many other conditions, depending on the benefit you choose. This cash injection can help alleviate some of the financial burden during tough times. Income protection and sickness benefits are also beneficial, helping to cover costs should you be temporarily unable to work. Consider contributing to an emergency fund if you can, to build up a nest egg for when you need this most. It’s also important to remember you can have a conversation with your medical provider. There’s often room for negotiations, whether that’s a reduction in fees or an agreement to pay a bill off monthly rather than as one lump sum.


“It can be quite daunting to think about the consequences of an unexpected medical emergency. Your financial adviser will be able to draw up a financial plan based on your unique context and concerns. This will help to ensure that you have the most appropriate cover and benefits in place to cover anything unexpected,” says Lee Hancox, Head of Channel and Segment Engagement at Sanlam.


  1. Does medical aid cover routine screenings? Medical aid products and plans cover different things. Chat to your provider to find out what free or subsidised annual screenings are offered, so you can take full advantage of these. Additionally, make use of any free preventative offerings, such as yearly flu vaccines. Consider taking steps like registering chronic conditions, so these fall under your Prescribed Minimum Benefits rather than draining your savings.
  2. Does family history matter? Some cancers do have a hereditary link, so you may need to start specific screenings – such as mammograms and prostate examinations – earlier. Speak to your practitioner and make sure you’re doing regular self-examinations, if applicable.


Dr Barry concludes, “Routine screenings are one of the best gifts you can give yourself and your family to live confidently, and with peace of mind. The pandemic prompted many people to get out of the routine of regular annual screenings. Now’s the time to book those check-ups and have the proper planning in place for life’s curveballs.”