Women's Health Watch

OCTOBER 01, 2008

Good News for Breast Cancer Survivors

A study, reported in the August 20, 2008, issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, showed that women who survive 5 years after a diagnosis of breast cancer have good odds of remaining cancer-free. Specifically, the study indicated that 89% of patients remain disease-free 10 years after diagnosis, and 81% are cancer-free after 15 years.

Lead researcher Abenaa Brewster, MD, noted that her study of 2838 patients did not include women who relapsed before 5 years. In the study, all of the patients underwent surgery to remove their original tumor, and some also had radiation. All of the women also took medication, such as months of chemotherapy, 5 years of tamoxifen, or both, to prevent the cancer from returning.

Improved Drug Labels for Pregnant and Lactating Women Needed

The Society for Women?s Health Research said the FDA should require clear labeling on all prescription drug and biological products to educate pregnant and breast-feeding women about possible health risks for their fetuses or nursing infants. The society expressed their concerns in a public comment letter to the agency in response to the FDA?s request for input on plans to change medication labeling.

The nonprofit organization believes that the fetal risk summaries should be listed first in the pregnancy subheadings of drug labels. The information should include short- and long-term side effects and indicate the severity of the condition for which the treatment may be prescribed.

In addition, the organization believes that pregnancy exposure registries, which track the outcomes of pregnancies exposed to particular medical products, should be improved to inform future research and treatment decisions. Furthermore, more research is needed to analyze the levels and effects of drugs in breast milk.

Women into Sharing Pills

A Centers for Disease and Control Prevention survey found that the sharing of prescription drugs is a common practice among younger women. Whereas 27% of men engage in this practice, drug-sharing rates were highest with women aged 18 to 44. The findings raise concern about side effects and health risks of unchecked prescription drug use among women who might become pregnant.

Among the 7500 women of reproductive age in the survey, >1 in 3 shared prescription medicines with friends or used drugs offered by friends. The types of drugs most commonly borrowed or shared by women are allergy medicines and pain pills. The women reported that they borrowed drugs if they already had a prescription for the medication but did not have it on them, or if they had a similar health problem as the individual who had the prescription pills. The findings were reported in the August 2008 issue of The Journal of Public Health.

Smoking Bad for the Heart

Women smokers have heart attacks nearly 14 years earlier, compared with women who do not smoke, according to a study recently presented at the European Society of Cardiology. The findings are based on data from 1784 patients admitted for their first heart attack at a hospital in Lillehammer, Norway.

The results indicated that women had their first heart attack at age 81 if they did not smoke, and at age 66 if they did. On average, men experienced their first heart attack at age 72 if they were not smokers, and at age 64 if they smoked.

?The difference in how smoking affects women and men is profound,? said Robert Harrington, MD, spokesman for the American College of Cardiology. ?Unless women don?t smoke or quit, they risk ending up with the same terrible disease as men, only at a much younger age.?

Birth Control Services Are Up

Data from the National Survey of Family Growth indicate that more US women are taking advantage of contraceptive services. The report, published in the October 2008 issue of the American Journal of Public Health, showed that from 1995 to 2002 the percentage of women who said they received contraceptive services increased from 36% to 41%.

Overall, the percentage of women receiving all sexual and reproductive health care services remained constant. The survey detected patterns and trends in the use of sexual and reproductive health care services. The surveys included in-home questionnaires of women aged 15 to 44 who were asked if they had received 13 specific services in the past 12 months.

Whereas 76% of the respondents reported getting services mostly from private health care providers, about a quarter said they went to a public health clinic or other public facility. The women who went to the publicly funded clinics received a broader range of services, according to the survey.

F A S T   F A C T: Approximately 180,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, and about 40,000 die from it.