Caring for women: Local hospitals focus on education and prevention in women's health care

Monday, November 15, 2010
Saint Francis maintenance worker David Kluesner sands the walls of the new reception area in the expanded portion of the Womancare facility at Saint Francis Medical Center, scheduled to open in May of 2011. (Kristin Eberts)

One in eight American women will get invasive breast cancer, and one in 33 will die from the disease, says Trinka Hileman, director of Womancare at Saint Francis Medical Center. Yes, we've all heard the statistics, and yes, we know the importance of annual exams and a healthy lifestyle -- but there's laundry to fold, children to feed, Christmas shopping to do.

"Women are usually the family caretakers and often put aside their needs to care for others," says Hileman. "Also, women are the primary decision-makers for health care needs, and getting their attention means getting that information to other family members, as well."

To help get that information across, and provide more space for treatment, Saint Francis has begun a 1,855-square-foot expansion to its Womancare facility, adding five exam rooms, a procedure room, a nurses station and an expanded waiting room. Once completed this May, the facility will offer more privacy and faster turnaround time for breast health patients, with on-site radiologists and surgeons, immediate retesting and full-time radiologists to provide real-time mammography results.

"Women need to be educated on the importance of yearly screening exams," adds Hileman. "Early detection is key in the fight against breast cancer. If caught early, it is very treatable and even curable."

Southeast Hospital is also focusing on awareness and prevention of women's health conditions, especially through its Wellness Connection in Cape Girardeau's West Park Mall.

"Part of the fact is that because women usually are providers for children, they tend to take less care of themselves," says Cindy Seyer, director of wellness services at the hospital. "The most important message I can give anybody is to know what your numbers are and understand your risk based on family history."

The Wellness Connection offers Heart Smart screenings every Tuesday, and other regular tests, like lipid panels, glucose readings and metabolic screenings. According to Seyer, the hospital is emphasizing its metabolic syndrome tests, which examine waist circumference, cholesterol and glucose levels. These numbers are closely related to chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease. Seyer also recommends completing the free online health assessments on the hospital's website. The breast and heart health assessments are particularly important for women, she notes.

"There are a number of screenings that tell what your risk is and what changes and modifications you can do to assist in reducing your risk," says Seyer. "We're much more proactive, and I think that we're always looking for opportunities to identify health risks early so they're prevented or better treated."

Seyer adds that nearly every health assessment, whether online or face-to-face, now checks for body weight and composition, and percentage of body fat.

"I think we're going to continue to hear more and more about things don't like to hear, especially as women, and that is our weight and the need to exercise," says Seyer. "We're encouraging women to work harder to maintain a healthy weight and get the 30 minutes of exercise that are recommended (at least five to six times per week)."

In addition to being proactive in their health care, women also need to communicate regularly with their doctors.

"Data trends are changing constantly, so it's important for people to have the most recent information and an open dialogue with their health care provider," says Seyer.

Checking up

"At each stage of a woman's life, there are important preventive health care steps to follow that can provide early detection of medical problems or prevent them entirely," says Dr. Jessica Lemmons, OB/GYN on staff at Saint Francis Medical Center. "It is important for women to see their gynecologist or primary care physician every year for their annual health screenings." Here's what she recommends:

Mammogram: Annually, beginning at age 40 (recommended by the American Cancer Society)

Pap smear: Annually, beginning at age 21 and continuing each year until age 30. After that, a woman's doctor may recommend less frequent pap smears (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists)

Bone density: Annually for women 65 and older, or for women younger than 65 who have a family history of osteoporosis (National Osteoporosis Foundation)

Cholesterol, blood pressure and stroke screening: Annually, beginning at age 20

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