Two physician assistants (PAs) from St. Rose Health Center recently presented women’s health information to an audience at the Great Bend Senior Center, concentrating on suggestions for older women.
Kristin Babcock, St. Rose Family Medicine, shared advice about pap smears, breast and colon cancer, and immunizations. Jeanne Habash, Great Bend Internists, followed with information about osteoporosis. Because of the number of topics, Babcock and Habash presented just a few highlights about each.
A pap smear, which tests for cervical cancer, is not necessary over age 65 for those who had adequate prior screenings and are not at high risk. In addition, pap smears are not suggested for someone who had a hysterectomy with the removal of the cervix and who doesn’t have a history of high-grade pre-cancer or cervical cancer, Babcock noted.
The test should be continued if there is a history of cervical cancer; HIV infection; a weakened immune system; or exposure to DES, a synthetic form of estrogen.
In her breast-cancer discussion, Babcock emphasized that those with the BRCA gene mutation are much more likely to develop breast cancer. She also strongly suggested yearly mammograms beginning at age 40, self-exams and exams by a health-care provider.
While discussing colon cancer, Babcock said the biggest risk factors are age and family history. She recommended colonoscopies starting at age 50 for those of average risk – earlier for those at high risk. If pre-cancerous polyps are found, they are removed to prevent the cancer. While the disease does occur in younger people, 90 percent is diagnosed after age 50.
There are four immunizations that senior citizens should consider, Babcock said. The shingles vaccine is important for those 50 and older. A new vaccine called Shingrix is more effective at preventing shingles than the Zostavax vaccination.
“It just came out and even if you had the Zostavax vaccination earlier, it is important to consider getting the Shingrix vaccination,” Babcock said.
Other important immunizations are tetanus, influenza and pneumonia.
Habash concentrated on osteoporosis, a metabolic disorder that causes decreased bone mass. Bones become brittle and abnormally vulnerable to fracture. Type 1 usually affects women age 51-75, while Type II occurs most commonly between ages 70 and 85.
“Our goal is prevention in women and men,” Habash said. “It is typical to lose some bone density but it is never too late to help prevent further problems. Healthy foods, exercise and Vitamin D are strongly suggested.
“For example, fatty fish such as mackerel and tuna, and dairy products are recommended, along with calcium and Vitamin D. It is also good to be active by walking, dancing and climbing stairs. And avoid all carbonated beverages, limit alcohol and don’t smoke.”
Habash referred to osteoporosis as the “silent disease” and suggested a DEXA bone density test every couple of years. Symptoms may include back stiffness, joint pain or weakness.
The physician assistant noted there are medications available.
“We usually go with oral medications first but injections may be necessary at some point.”