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Women’s Health Week Starts May 14

May 4, 2017

Diverse group of smiling womenThis year, the 18th annual National Women’s Health Week starts on Mother’s Day, May 14 and runs through May 20. Led by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health (OWH), the annual event empowers women to make their health a priority. According to the OWH web site (womenshealth.gov), women can take steps to improve their health by scheduling a well-woman visit (checkup) each year. OWH also recommends that women undergo screening tests  for diseases such as breast cancer, cervical cancer and osteoporosis, and ensure that their vaccinations are up-to-date. The World Health Organization reports that some of the top issues affecting women’s health are cancer, reproductive health, maternal health, HIV, violence against women and mental health.

According to the National Institutes of Health, many issues affect women differently from men, for example:

  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, and women are more likely to die following a heart attack than men are.
  • Stroke affects more women than men, and though the risk factors for both are similar, women have additional factors, such as taking birth control pills, being pregnant, and using hormone replacement therapy.
  • Alcohol abuse and alcoholism are more serious in women than in men, even though men are more likely to become dependent on, or addicted to, alcohol. The health effects include an increased risk for breast cancer and heart disease. Women who drink during pregnancy run the risk of their babies being born with fetal alcohol syndrome, which causes brain damage and learning difficulties.
  • Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can be more serious in women, causing infertility in at least 24,000 women in the United States each year. STDs/STIs (such as HPV, which can cause cervical cancer) often go untreated in women because symptoms are less obvious than in men. Also, women may mistake an STD/STI for another less serious condition, such as a yeast infection.

Women and cancer

Two of the most common cancers affecting women are breast and cervical cancers, and early detection is key to keeping women alive and healthy. Globally, approximately half a million women die from cervical cancer and half a million from breast cancer each year.

Cervical cancer starts in the cervix, the lower, narrow part of the uterus, and is the easiest gynecological cancer to prevent with regular screening tests and vaccination. It is also curable when found and treated early. A major cause of cervical cancers is the human papillomavirus (HPV). Cervical cancer tends to occur in midlife, with most cases being detected in women between ages 20 and 50.

Breast cancer starts when cells in the breast begin to grow out of control and usually form a tumor. The tumor can often be seen on an x-ray or felt as a lump. If the cells invade surrounding tissues or spread (metastasize) to distant areas of the body, then the tumor is malignant (cancerous). Breast cancer occurs almost entirely in women, but men can get breast cancer, too. Though breast cancers can start from different parts of the breast, most begin in the ducts.

In its “Cancer Facts & Figures 2017” report, the American Cancer Society estimates that about 12,820 new cases of invasive cervical cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S. and about 4,210 women will die from it. The society also estimates about 252,710 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women and that 40,610 women will die from it. Though the statistics are not ideal, the cervical cancer death rate has dropped by more than 50 percent over the last 40 years, due to increased use of the Pap test (also called the Pap smear). As well, the female breast cancer death rate declined by 38 percent from its peak from 1989 to 2014. This is due to improvements in early detection and treatment, translating to 297,300 fewer breast cancer deaths.

UCF efforts to fight cancer

To help improve and speed the diagnosis of cervical cancer, UCF researchers have invented a new all-in-one imaging probe that eliminates the old cervical cancer screening techniques, assuring efficiency and a better chance of recovery for patients, including pregnant patients. The new probe offers a real-time three-dimensional colposcopy diagnosis using low-coherence laser light to conduct spatial imaging and spectral sensing for tissue diagnosis, and the detailed guidance to physically biopsy suspicious lesions. You can learn more about one of the UCF researchers who developed the technology, Peter Delfyett, Ph.D., in this month’s Faculty Feature (coming soon).

Additionally, UCF breast cancer researcher, Annette Khaled, Ph.D. has developed a nanoparticle-based technology for targeted treatment of metastatic breast cancer, for which the current five-year survival rate is just 22 percent. Many of the currently available treatments generally involve chemotherapy, which can have toxic side effects due to a lack of specificity. With her immunology expertise, Khaled is getting closer to transforming metastatic cancer from an inevitable death sentence to a curable disease.

For more information about UCF’s cancer-fighting initiatives, contact Brion Berman.

By: Kathleen Snoeblen