Of Mice and Women: His and Her Healthcare

Lab Miceby Janet Simpson Benvenuti

What do mice have to do with men and women’s health? It turns out, nearly everything.

Here are a few surprising facts.

  • Most medical research begins in laboratories using mice. Until 20 years ago, researchers used only male mice, finding the hormonal cycles of female mice an ‘unnecessary’ complication in experimental design.
  • Despite laws today that require all government-funded research to include females in animal and human studies, the sex of the animals is not often stated in published results.
  • Further, when clinical trials begin, researchers frequently do not enroll adequate numbers of women or, when they do, they fail to report data separately by sex.

Why does sex matter? Because many diseases, medications, and medical devices impact men and women differently. Here are just a few examples.

Perhaps you saw the report filed by Leslie Stahl on 60 Minutes about Ambien, a commonly prescribed medication, that found women need half the dosing typically recommended by their physicians. Do other drugs need to be adjusted? Most likely, we just don’t know which ones.

Perhaps you know that more women die each year from lung cancer than from breast, ovarian and uterine cancers combined, and that nonsmoking women are three times more likely than nonsmoking men to get lung cancer. We still don’t know why.

Perhaps you  watched Dr. Johnson’s TED talk, where she explained sex differences in heart disease and depression, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease and how attention to sex differences in medical research that is already funded and underway will benefit both men AND women’s health.

What does this mean for you and your family?

Make it a habit to ask your physicians if the treatment, diagnostic tests, or medications being prescribed work differently for women and men. They may not know the answer when you ask, but the question may prompt them to find out.

Read “Why Women’s Health Can’t Wait” written by the Connor’s Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology. Join their Call to Action to hold federal agencies, medical device and pharmaceutical researchers accountable for how their studies address sex.

Consider supporting the work of Dr. Johnson and her colleagues, tireless advocates for Women’s Health, as they work with Congress and leading research institutions to address this issue.

Collectively, we can improve the health of our mothers and grandmothers, sisters and daughters as well as the men in our lives by insisting that the science behind health care accounts for sex differences.

Who knew that mice were so important to our health and well-being?

© 2014 Circle of Life Partners, LLC. All rights reserved.




The Hidden Women’s Cancer

by Jan Simpson

If you had to guess what form of cancer accounts for more deaths among women each year, what would you say?  Breast cancer? Ovarian cancer? Melanoma? My guess would have been breast cancer until I attended a luncheon sponsored by the Connors Center for Women’s Health and Biology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. According to Dr. Yolonda Colson, lung cancer accounts for more deaths among women each year than breast, ovarian, and uterine cancers combined.

She calls it the hidden women’s cancer, hidden in part because of the stigma attached to smoking, one of the leading causes of lung cancer. Yet Dr. Colson and her colleagues have researched how lung cancer differs between women and men and they have found some surprising results:

  • Lung cancer rates are higher among women who have never smoked compared to men.
  • Approximately 20 to 25 percent of all women with lung cancer have never smoked compared with only five to 10 percent of men.
  • Women seem to be more susceptible to certain types of lung cancer and tend to live longer with lung cancer than men.

My father had been a lifetime smoker, and so I was saddened but not surprised when he was diagnosed with lung cancer at the age of 78.  But as a non-smoker, I was shocked to learn from Dr. Colson that one out of five women diagnosed with lung cancer have never smoked.  Two risk factors for women are a previous history of breast cancer and a family history of lung cancer.  Exposure to secondhand smoke is a third. Dr. Colson also indicated that environmental exposure to radon could be significant as well.  Maintaining a smoke-free work and home environment and testing for radon levels at home are prudent ways to lower risk.

If a woman you love has been diagnosed with lung cancer, I would encourage you to read the Women’s Lung Cancer Program website where specialists from the Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center answer frequently asked questions about women and lung cancer.  If you are researching hospitals for treatment, the National Cancer Institute has designated 40 American hospitals as comprehensive cancer centers, one may be located near your home. And if you are a caregiver for a person living with cancer, you will find suggestions for coping and caring for a loved one here.

Has someone you love been diagnosed with lung cancer?

©Circle of Life Partners™