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Health & Wellness
Healthcare historically has not spent much time addressing the critical physiological differences between women and men. This includes not devising recommendations specifically for women in a wide variety of health conditions and, until relatively recently, not including women in clinical drug trials.
“But that’s changing,” said Dr Karen Racicot, Quest director and medical science liaison of Women's and Reproductive Health, “as we've moved forward and learned that we women truly are unique and need to be considered uniquely when we're developing drugs, or when we're developing algorithms for treatment, or making health choices throughout our life.”
Dr Racicot joined Kathleen Valentine, Vice President and General Manager of Women's Health and Reproductive Health at Quest Diagnostics, in a recent episode of the “Diagnostics Dialogues” podcast.
Women’s health goes far beyond reproductive health
Letting women be a part of clinical trials helped reveal how different women are from men, Dr Racicot pointed out, not just in terms of reproductive physiology, but also in other critical areas of physiology, including cardiac health. “We’ve really had to fight for this,” she said.
“Heart disease is the number 1 killer of women in the United States,” Valentine said. “One in 5 female deaths is attributable to heart disease.” That sobering fact has helped the field increase the attention paid to prevention, screening, and treatment of heart disease in women. “This is definitely front and center for us now. Quest provides the insights and information to help clinicians and patients understand a woman's heart health and provide them with the resources, tools, and information to make informed decisions.”
Progress in women’s health has been accelerated by an increasing number of women in leadership. “Women need to be properly represented,” Dr Racicot emphasized, in order to have the right perspective in the room when decisions are made. “In order to actually make changes in all of these industries, you need to be in the C-Suite.”
As a distinct segment of Quest, the Women’s Health team works with other clinical groups within Quest to identify the unique needs of women, including in endocrinology, rheumatology, and others.
“Quest is also increasing access to healthcare for women, through our Quest for Health Equity program. Our team is working to help remove the barriers deepening health inequities in under-resourced communities, while improving equity in testing, screening and diagnosis.”
Regular screening is essential for lifelong health
Screening for cervical cancer has been a huge success story, Valentine noted. “Cervical cancer used to be a major killer of women. Because of screening, the numbers have dropped dramatically. The decrease is directly associated with the introduction, over 40 years ago of the Pap smear, or the cervical cytology smear, and then was further decreased with molecular testing for human papilloma virus,” the primary cause of cervical cancer.
Because the screening test detects precancerous lesions, and because progression to cancer takes a long time, “being screened can truly protect you from cervical cancer in almost all cases,” Dr Racicot said.
Annual screening for sexually transmitted infections is also recommended for women under age 25, and for women over 25 with risk factors, such as a new sexual partner, she added. Untreated STIs can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, as well as lifetime issues with fertility. A new sexual partner or the appearance of symptoms should also lead to prompt screening. Quest also provides genetic carrier screening for couples contemplating pregnancy, and prenatal screening “to provide parents with actionable results that can help improve the life of their future child, by recognizing issues early on.”
Quest has a Women's Health website with a lot of material for physicians, including a detailed resource center “where we have a lot of easy-to-digest, terrific resources for women at the various stages of life,” Valentine said. “Our goal is to empower women to have the confidence, the comfort, and the courage to have important conversations with their physicians.”
“As a woman, you are different, you are special, and you need to take care of yourself, and it doesn't take a lot to do those things. But use your voice, take care of yourself so that you can take care of others around you, and that's what matters the most.”
You can listen to the entire podcast episode here: https://diagnostics-dialogues.simplecast.com/episodes/a-commitment-to-womens-health