Faculty Spotlight: SGU’s Dr. Frances McGill Speaks Candidly About Women’s Health

Dr. Frances McGill, a fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, is a graduate of St. George’s University and professor of clinical skills and obstetrics-gynecology to School of Medicine students. She shared with us the importance of preventive health, current health issues facing women today, ovarian cancer signs, and more.


SGU: How important is preventive health for women?

FM: Preventive health—a healthy lifestyle, finding disease at early stages, and prevention—has decreased the burden of illness and death.

Mammograms have led to earlier diagnoses and outcomes of breast cancer. Screening should begin between ages 40 and 50 and be done every 1 to 2 years, earlier if a woman is at risk. Risk factors for breast cancer include:

  • not having biological children
  • early-onset menstruation
  • late-onset menopause
  • obesity
  • and
  • Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry
  • personal positive genetic testing of BRCA1 and BRCA2


SGU: How can women stay in good health?

FM: Staying in good health requires seeing your healthcare provider regularly, eating a balanced diet, getting at least 30 minutes of exercise three times per week, (ideally daily), having a positive outlook, enjoying positive relationships, and setting realistic goals.


SGU: What are the most pressing health issues women are dealing with today?

FM: Obviously, the most pressing health issue today is the COVID-19 pandemic. Otherwise, heart disease and cancer remain a major health issue, with lung cancer being most prevalent. If you smoke, take advantage of smoking cessation programs like SmokeFree.gov.

Colon cancer identified early by screening can also improve prognoses.

Breast cancer occurs in approximately one in every eight women. Again, early screening by mammograms can identify cancer  at  early  stages, results  in  more  options for treatment, and saves lives.

Heart health is critical for everyone. Heart disease and stroke kill more women (and men) than cancer. Heart disease is sometimes erroneously considered a “disease of men” or less life-threatening than cancer. Heart attack and stroke risk can be reduced by:

  • strict control of blood pressure
  • a low-salt, low-cholesterol diet
  • weight control
  • exercise
  • daily use of prescribed blood pressure medications
  • seek immediate care for a new severe chest, left arm, neck, or left mouth pain. A “heart attack “in women may give different symptoms that the usual chest pain.


SGU: September is National Ovarian Cancer Awareness month. Knowing that ovarian cancer can be difficult to diagnose in the beginning stages, what early screening is available? Are there signs that women should know? 

FM: According to the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition (NOCC), ovarian cancer occurs in approximately one in every 78 women and is currently the fifth leading cause of death in women ages 35 to 74. Risk factors for ovarian cancer include:

  • not having biological children
  • early-onset menstruation
  • late-onset menopause
  • endometriosis
  • personal positive genetic testing of BRCA1 and BRCA2
  • many blood relatives with cancer

The death rate from ovarian cancer is high, mainly because the diagnosis is commonly made in later stages when the cancer has already spread. Typically, there are few signs in earlier stages, but symptoms can include:

  • a feeling of fullness after eating (bloating)
  • decreased appetite
  • increased size of the abdomen
  • changes in bowel or bladder function

Screening for ovarian cancer is currently approved only for women at risk. Hopefully, screening for ovarian cancer will become a reality for all women in our lifetime because early detection is critical. The NOCC points out that the five-year survival rate is over 90 percent when diagnosed early, as opposed to a survival rate “as low as 28 percent” if caught in stage III or higher.


SGU: What classes do you teach, and what topics do you cover?

FM: I teach “Principles of Clinical Medicine” courses, “Communication and Physical Diagnosis,” and “Introduction to Clinical Medicine” to second-year medical school students. This prepares students to communicate with patients in a kind and professional fashion, examine the patient, and make a diagnosis. Within these courses, I teach the female reproductive system and the obstetrics-gynecology section.