There's good and bad news on the state of women's health research, according to a report released by the Institute of Medicine late last week. The good: Disease burden and deaths among women due to cardiovascular disease, breast cancer and cervical cancer are down. The bad: Less progress has been made on conditions (depression, osteoporosis, addiction and dementia, to name a few) that are not major killers but none-the-less cause significant suffering.
Women's health is a relative newcomer as a research focus, the study release emphasizes:
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, as demonstrated by the unequal use of stents, beta blockers, and cholesterol-lowering drugs to treat heart disease in women. Moreover, the symptoms and courses of diseases in males do not always correspond to 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.
Recognition in the 1980's that women's health issues were being inadequately addressed led to a revamping of policies and regulations that enabled many advances. However, "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 release concludes.