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Women’s Health Research: Progress, Pitfalls, and Promise
IS WOMEN’S HEALTH RESEARCH FOCUSED ON THE MOSTAPPROPRIATE AND RELEVANT DISEASES, DISORDERS,CONDITIONS, OUTCOMES, AND END POINTS?
Several issues surfaced with the assessment of the question of whether women’s health research has focused on the most appropriate and relevant health conditions. One was whether to look at progress in relation to women’s overall health and well-being rather than listing progress by condition. Although the committee preferred the former, much of the knowledge regarding women’s health has been conceptualized and conducted in relation to specific conditions. That approach reflects the organization of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), health-professions schools, specialties, and professional organizations. As a result, the committee examined progress in individual conditions in Chapter 3.
A second issue was the selection of conditions to discuss. Which conditions fall under the heading of women’s health, and which conditions should the committee discuss? A narrow view would include only conditions that are unique to women. Although those are important, such a narrow view defines women primarily by their reproductive function. The committee chose a broader perspective: to consider all conditions that affect women disproportionately, that have different risk factors or that present differently in women, or that are treated differently in women and men. Applying the broader definition includes almost all conditions. The committee could not review all such conditions and, therefore, highlights a number of such conditions as examples that are specific to women because of differences in prevalence, severity, preferred treatment, or understanding or because the condition is prominent in women or there is a research need regarding women, whether or not there are sex differences.
Chapter 3 reviews and categorizes the progress in some of the most prevalent and problematic of the conditions for women, and they are presented in Table 6-1. A large amount of research on those conditions has been conducted, and progress has been made, especially with respect to some of the leading killers of women. That progress, however, has not been seen for all conditions, in particular for nonfatal conditions that affect women’s quality of life. Women’s health research has been focused on some appropriate and relevant health conditions, but more conditions need to be studied. Some of the research findings and the progress that has been made against a number of conditions are summarized briefly below.
Conditions on Which Research Has Contributed to Major Progress
Through its review of the literature, the committee identified three conditions in which scientific research led to major progress with respect to improvements in prevention, diagnosis, or treatment that resulted in substantial reductions in incidence or mortality: breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, and cervical cancer.
Research advances in breast cancer resulted in a decrease in mortality over