How proper screenings and preventive efforts help to keep women well

Dr. Susan Melvin, Associate Chief Medical Officer, Long Beach Memorial

Dr. Sandra Makela, Chief of Staff, MemorialCare Center for Women

Women’s health goes well beyond childbirth, covering all ages and stages of their lives. And research shows that when women engage in healthy lifestyles, the health of their entire family improves.

To learn more, Smart Business spoke to Dr. Susan Melvin, the associate chief medical officer at Long Beach Memorial, and Dr. Sandra Makela, chief of staff for MemorialCare Center for Women at Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach and Long Beach Memorial.

Which disease most impacts women?

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women over age 25 in the U.S. Each year, six times as many women die of cardiovascular disease than breast cancer. The condition affects 10 percent of women between ages 45 and 64, and one in four women over 65 — about 8 million women in all.

Underdiagnosis and subtle, often silent, symptoms result in more women than men dying from the disease. For women, symptoms include nausea or dizziness; uncomfortable pressure or tightness; squeezing, fullness or heaviness in the chest that does not go away in a few minutes; cold sweats or pounding heart; pain radiating up the shoulders and neck or down the arms or back; difficulty breathing; and/or shortness of breath. Men say they feel crushing pain, like an elephant sitting on their chest.

Regular, moderate exercise, along with a healthy diet and avoiding smoking can all help to reduce the risk of heart disease.

What cancer is most prevalent?

Lung cancer surpasses breast cancer as the most common cause of cancer-related deaths in women. About 90 percent of lung cancers result from use of tobacco, which contains over 4,000 chemical compounds, many shown to be cancer-causing. Nonsmokers living with a smoker have a 25 percent higher risk for developing lung cancer than nonsmokers who don’t reside with a smoker. Incidence in the U.S. is decreasing, thanks to early education about dangers of smoking and effective smoking cessation programs.

Can you share the progress in breast cancer?

We’ve seen breast cancer survival rates improve 2 percent annually over the last decade, thanks to better treatment and vastly improved technology, education and awareness that allows us to detect breast cancers at smaller sizes and earlier stages. We cannot emphasize enough the importance of getting annual mammograms after age 40, or earlier if you have certain risk factors. To detect breast cancer early, also have regular breast exams by your doctor and perform self-exams every month.

We are proud that our MemorialCare Breast Centers are recognized nationally for advances in diagnosis and treatment and access to the latest technologies and techniques.

What about female cancers?

Women are at risk for gynecological cancers that attack the tissues and organs of the reproductive system, and include cervical, ovarian, uterine, vaginal and vulvar cancers. While symptoms may vary by the type of cancer, they may include pelvic pain, abnormal vaginal bleeding, persistent abdominal swelling or bloating, ongoing bowel changes, like constipation and diarrhea, and unintended weight loss or gain. Reduce your risks by getting regular pap smears, avoiding smoking and limiting exposure to human papillomavirus (HPV), a common sexually transmitted virus that in some cases, when it is left undetected or untreated, may progress into cervical cancer.

Are there other diseases that mostly affect women?

Among the diseases affecting women, osteoporosis, urinary tract infections and endometriosis are important to mention. Of the 44 million Americans with highly preventable osteoporosis, 69 percent are women. To combat and lessen the effects of osteoporosis, keep your bones strong with weight-bearing physical activities, avoid fractures, maintain active lifestyles, ensure adequate consumption of calcium and vitamin D and discuss possible risks and prevention with your doctor.

Urinary track infections, or UTIs, are more common in women, with one in five developing these during their lifetime. UTIs occurring during pregnancy can lead to premature delivery. Endometriosis, a reproductive condition that affects nearly 100 million women around the world, causes pelvic pain, heavy periods and irregularity with the menstrual cycle. And without treatment, symptoms can worsen, causing infertility.

How can businesses improve the wellness of their work force?

When individuals join with doctors and hospitals by learning their family medical history, educating themselves about medical issues, paying attention to changes in their bodies and taking even the simplest of steps to improve their health, the results can be significant and can be beneficial to everyone.

Partner with local hospitals to provide education, prevention, screening tests and wellness activities for your employees and their families. MemorialCare Health System offers specialized diagnostic and treatment programs for women. We also have online risk assessments, tools and information at

Remind your employees that taking care of themselves and their families is essential to living longer, healthier and happier lives.

Dr. Susan Melvin is associate chief medical officer at Long Beach Memorial. Dr. Sandra Makela is chief of staff for MemorialCare Center for Women at Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach and Long Beach Memorial. The not-for-profit MemorialCare Health System includes Long Beach Memorial Medical Center, Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach, Community Hospital Long Beach, Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley and Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in Laguna Hills and San Clemente. For additional information on excellence in health care, please visit