Oct. 5, 2010
Report: women's health research lowers risk for some diseases
A concerted effort to boost women's health research over the past two decades has lowered women's risks of breast cancer, cardiovascular disease and cervical cancer, according to a recent report from the Institute of Medicine.
Research efforts have yielded less but still significant progress in reducing the effects of depression, HIV/AIDS and osteoporosis on women. Yet the report found that several health issues important to women have seen little progress, such as unintended pregnancy, autoimmune diseases, alcohol and drug addiction, lung cancer and dementia.
The report, titled "Women's Health Research: Progress, Pitfalls, and Promise," recommends ways to improve women's health research to result in greater strides in the future. It was produced by the Committee on Women's Health Research, an Institute of Medicine committee that includes Linda Snetselaar, Ph.D., UI professor of epidemiology.
"Overall, our report found fewer gains on chronic and debilitating conditions that cause significant suffering but have lower death rates," Snetselaar said. "This points to the need for researchers to give quality of life similar consideration as mortality when it comes to research attention. Moreover, barriers such as socio-economic and cultural influences still limit the potential reach and impact of research developments, especially among disadvantaged women."
The gains outlined by the report reflect the effects of requirements for researchers to include women in studies, an influx of resources from public and private stakeholders and multifaceted research approaches that tackled the conditions from several fronts for a more complete scientific understanding of each condition, the committee concluded.
Historically, researchers recruited women to clinical studies less often than men in part because of ethical concerns about potential fetal exposure to experimental substances; the flux of hormones in women's bodies, which could complicate studies; and the assumption that results of studies on men could be extrapolated to women. However, trial results were not necessarily applicable or consistently applied to women. Moreover, the symptoms and courses of diseases in males do not always correlate with what happens in females. Inadequate research focus on women's health issues was first comprehensively documented in 1985, which led to a transformation in government and public support of women's health research and in related policies and regulations.
Requirements for researchers to enroll women in clinical trials have enabled many advances, but the full benefit of increased participation by women has not been realized because researchers do not routinely analyze and report results separately for women and men, the committee observed. This limits the breadth and depth of clinical information that could facilitate more effective interventions and treatments for women.
"There is good news and bad news on the state of women's health research," said committee chair Nancy E. Adler, professor of medical psychology at the University of California, San Francisco. "Significant boosts in research on women's health issues have yielded measurable progress in reducing the toll of several serious disorders. Unfortunately, less progress has been made on conditions that are not major killers but still profoundly affect women's quality of life. These issues require similar attention and resources if we are to see better prevention and treatment in more areas."
The report was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Established in 1970 under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine provides independent, objective, evidence-based advice to policymakers, health professionals, the private sector and the public.
NOTE TO EDITORS AND NEWS DIRECTORS: This news release includes information provided by the National Academies and the Institute of Medicine. More information about the report and the committee are available at http://national-academies.org/morenews/20100923.html.
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