Women's Health Watch

Published Online: Tuesday, February 16, 2010
New Guidelines Recommend Scaling Back Preventive Tests for Women 

Recent controversial guideline changes from 2 health groups are calling for a later start and less frequency of regular cancer screenings for women. The updated mammography and Pap testing recommendations come from the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), respectively.

Updated from 2002, the USPSTF mammography guidelines released late last month advise against routine screenings in women aged 40 through 49. Starting at age 50, mammograms should be performed biannually instead of annually, and only at the decision of the patient and her caregiver, according to the task force. In addition, the USPSTF recommended against clinicians instructing women on performing breast self-examinations.

Within the same week, ACOG released revised guidelines for Pap tests. Citing declining cervical cancer rates over the past 30 years, the group is recommending that cervical cancer screenings do not begin until age 21, and that they be done every 2 years instead of annually. For women aged 30 or older, ACOG suggests that those who have had 3 consecutive negative Pap test results only be tested once every 3 years, adding that women identified as having certain risk factors could require more frequent screening.


Early Menopause, Hip Fracture Not Correlated

Women who experience early menopause need not worry about an increased risk of hip fracture due to weakening of the bones, according to a recent study published in Public Library of Science Medicine (November 10, 2009).

“The findings show that among postmenopausal women, age is the major determinant of hip fracture risk and that for women of a given age, their age at menopause has little effect on hip fracture risk,” said Emily Banks, PhD, associate professor with the National Center for Epidemiology and Population Health at Australian National University and lead author.

The researchers analyzed information from the Million Women Study, conducted in the United Kingdom, which enrolled >1 million women aged 50 to 64 between 1996 and 2001.


Blood Test Can Predict Alzheimer’s in Women

Middle-aged women can take a proactive stance toward the risk of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) later in life, according to Swedish researchers. Study results revealed that those with high levels of homocysteine, an amino acid in the blood, are twice as likely to develop AD years later.

Based on the Prospective Population Study of Women in Gothenburg, a study initiated during the late 1960s, the thesis comes from the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg. The decades-old study examined close to 1500 women aged 38 through 60, by conducting health interviews and blood tests. Having analyzed most of the blood samples, as well as the incidence of AD and dementia in study participants as the years went on, the researchers found that the risk was doubled in women with heightened homocysteine levels.


Pregnancy Hormone Helps Prevent Breast Cancer

The benefits of pregnancy include more than the bundle of joy it brings, according to recent research—it also helps fend off breast cancer. According to recent research, hormones produced during pregnancy induce a protein that directly inhibits the occurrence of the disease.

The protein, alpha-fetoprotein (AFP), is seen by the researchers as having potential as an anti–breast cancer drug. By treating rats with estrogen plus progesterone, estrogen alone, or human chorionic gonadotropin, and observing that AFP directly thwarted the growth of breast cancer cells growing in culture, the researchers concluded that treatment with the hormones lowered the incidence of breast cancer due to the induction of AFP by the hormones.

“The body has a natural defense system against breast cancer. AFP needs to be safely harnessed and developed into a drug that can be used to protect women from breast cancer,” said lead researcher Herbert Jacobson, PhD, basic breast cancer researcher at both the Center for Immunology and Microbial Diseases and the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences at Albany Medical College. ■
 


FAST FACT: Despite some doctors telling their pregnant patients that an occasional alcoholic beverage will not hurt their unborn babies, no clinical evidence exists to support any safe level of alcohol use.



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