It’s only Wednesday, and already, this has not been a good week for women’s health.
As many of you know, the Planned Parenthood defunding debate continues. Sen. Schumer called H.R. 3 "dead on arrival" in the Senate, but pro-life Republicans show no sign of relenting. The New York Times has dubbed this a war on women. Not to mention the fetus “testifying” today in Ohio’s state legislature.
However, women’s health issues extend beyond reproduction, as this week’s news clearly demonstrates.
Remember the recent research saying women’s abuse of alcohol was on the rise? Apparently, the same is true for smoking. Research in 74 countries found that in countries where women have greater status, women tend to smoke in increasing numbers. While I applaud nations working to foster gender equity, they also need to acknowledge the accompanying health problems. Hopefully, this study will prompt further action on health issues female smokers face.
Researchers also found links between obesity and more deadly forms of breast cancer. According to the study, women who are overweight have a 35% higher risk of developing triple-negative breast cancer, a very aggressive version of the disease. Because standard breast cancer drugs do not treat triple-negative breast cancer, this form of the disease has higher rates of mortality. The media and medical establishment portray breast cancer as treatable due to high survival rates and ability to operate. Yet research like this indicates we need to continue to take it seriously.
Another risk affects both men and women: yesterday, scientists revealed that half of men may be infected with HPV (thanks, Jezebel, for the link). HPV, spread through sexual contact, is best known as the cause of some types of cervical cancer. However, the virus can also cause anal, penile, head and neck cancers. This just makes the HPV vaccine that much more important for both men and women.
Finally, a report from the American Heart Association said that women are underrepresented in heart-device studies. Two-thirds of the participants in the medical trials examined were men. Other studies omitted the gender of research subjects altogether. These skewed statistics raise questions about the safety of the devices, as women may react differently than men to their presence. Women and minorities are frequently absent in medical research although they represent a significant proportion of the population. These heart studies were in violation of FDA rules. The agency should take these regulations seriously and condemn those researchers who fail to meet them.
When put together, this research describes a dizzying array of problems: heart issues, STIs, and breast cancer. Nor can we ignore the health risks affiliated with smoking. Women’s health issues can be very complex, as research like this shows us. Yet this complexity must encourage scientists and the government to take these issues more seriously, not less.
As things stand, women’s health problems are often ignored or underfunded. These studies show that women’s issues are receiving some attention. However, it is not enough to find connections between health problems. We must also work to create solutions. Now that we know the risks, we must make serious investments of time, energy, and money. Women’s health problems are just as serious as men’s, and we need to see an acknowledgement of this fact.