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What Is Different About Women’s Health?

Studies explore disparity in health risks between men and women (January 6)

Until recently, a large percentage of medical knowledge came from studies of predominantly male populations, but slowly, the scientific community has realized the need for research focusing specifically on women.

A special issue of Clinical Chemistry showcases nearly 50 studies that shed light on how heart disease, cancer, reproductive problems, and other common health issues manifest differently in women than in men at the molecular and genetic levels.

“So, what is different about women's health?” asks issue editor Ann M. Gronowski, PhD. “Women have a unique physiology and set of health conditions that arise from different reproductive organs as well as pregnancy. They also may differ in their risk for developing, and their response to, diseases that are common to both men and women. It is clear that more research is needed to understand these differences so that the screening, treatment, and monitoring of health outcomes in women may be optimized.”

Gronowski notes that this disparity in health risks does not arise from genetics alone, but also from societal factors, such as limited access to health care due to women having a lower average income and greater difficulty affording health care.

One prominent example of the sex-based health disparities women experience is that heart disease is under-diagnosed and under-treated in women compared with men. The special women’s issue of Clinical Chemistry features new research and analyses that examine whether using different criteria for blood tests to diagnose heart disease in women might solve this problem.

Women also have a higher risk than men of developing cancer before the age of 60 due to breast cancer, which is the second leading cause of cancer death in women. Two new studies in the special journal issue have uncovered promising new biological molecules that could reduce breast cancer deaths by increasing early breast cancer diagnosis and by predicting relapses or metastasis in newly-diagnosed breast cancer patients.

Sources: PR Newswire; January 6, 2013; and Clinical Chemistry; January 2014.

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