Importance Of Screenings

Dr. Robert Mathis in his clinic office. Amanda C. Gregg photo

Robert T. Mathis, M.D.
OB/GYN at Kaua‘i Medical Clinic and Wilcox Memorial hospital

Originally from Illinois, Dr. Robert T. Mathis is a board-certified staff physician who has been at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Kaua’i Medical Clinic and Wilcox Memorial Hospital since November 2005. He was a major in the U.S. Army Medical Corps and served more than eight years of active duty stationed at Tripler Army Medical Center on Oahu and also at Fort Benning, Ga. He was deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, in 2005, and was awarded eight medals and service ribbons, including three Army commendation medals. A graduate of the Saint Louis University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Mathis also earned honors in 13 courses and clerkships.

What was your life like before medicine? I had a career as an amateur and professional cyclist in the 1980s. I was on the 7-Eleven cycling team and national amateur team. I traveled extensively and competed internationally prior to returning to school to pursue a career in medicine.

When and why did you decide to be an OB/GYN? I decided on obstetrics and gynecology during my third year of medical school. It just seemed to fit. I loved and still do love obstetrics, as well as interacting with patients and doing surgery. I love what I do and feel privileged.

Your military background is fascinating and inspirational. Can you share some of it with our readers? I paid for medical school through a U.S. Army health professions scholarship. They provided me with the financial means to pay for medical school and provided residency training. In return, I served eight years on active duty providing OB/GYN care to military servicemembers and their families. I also was deployed six months to Afghanistan, where I provided care to soldiers as well as combatants and the people of Afghanistan.

For women who may not know the importance of screenings, can you help explain why they are essential? Screenings are important because they can help detect disease early, before patients have symptoms. We are then able to provide treatment as necessary to prevent more serious disease states, such as cancer.

What are some examples of screenings that your office handles, and at what age should women be receiving them? Pap smears screen for cervical cancer, and the latest guidelines recommend starting at age 21. Chlamydia screens are recommended annually for those who are sexually active and under 25. Chlamydia is the most common reported bacterial sexually transmitted disease in the United States and is easily treated with antibiotics – and it can lead to pelvic infections that can result in chronic pain and infertility.

We also recommend mammography to screen for breast cancer. I recommend starting at age 40 for those at average risk, and earlier depending on family history.

Colon cancer screening we recommend at age 50, or again earlier depending on family history.

How often should a patient be examined? Generally we recommend an annual health examination. In the gynecology clinic, it involves a clinical breast exam to screen for breast cancer, pelvic exam, pap smear and STD screening as indicated. We also assess for menstrual problems and discuss and prescribe contraception, as desired. In addition, we assess fertility issues and provide preconceptual counseling and assess overall health status and risk factors.

At what age should a patient have her first OB/GYN visit? Ideally the first OB/GYN visit is best accomplished as an adolescent. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that the first dedicated reproductive health visit take place between the ages of 13 and 15 years. This visit will provide health guidance, screening and preventive health care services, and offers an excellent opportunity to begin a physician-patient relationship. This visit does not generally include an internal pelvic examination. During the confidential visit with the patient, the health care provider includes a discussion of contraception and STIs, because some adolescents are and some will become sexually active. Forty-seven percent of females age 15-19 have engaged in intercourse, which increases with age from 14 percent of 15-year-olds and 75 percent of 19-year-olds.

What do you do for fun?

Enjoy a glass of wine, cooking, growing orchids, traveling and cycling.