Dec. 27, 1997 ROCHESTER, MINN. -- Women's health issues frequently made headlines in 1997 -- from mammograms and pap smears to diet pills and hormone replacement therapy.
According to Mayo Clinic's Dr. Julie Abbott, medical editor of Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource, a new monthly newsletter for women, "I believe this increased coverage is generally positive because it raises awareness of important issues. However, there are not always concrete answers or definite recommendations for women to follow, which can be frustrating and confusing."
Part of the clinic's newsletter is devoted to interpreting headline health news. "Our goal is to offer practical interpretations and reliable advice for women who need to make decisions about these health matters," says Dr. Abbott.
Here are six of the year's most prominent women's health issues, which Dr. Abbott and other Mayo Clinic physicians addressed in Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource throughout 1997. The mammogram muddle -- at what age should I start screening? Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource: The fog is lifting on this issue following new studies from Sweden showing that women who had annual mammograms in their 40s had a 17 percent reduction in the number of breast cancer deaths. Both the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute now believe that mammograms should begin at age 40. However, the two organizations have different recommendations about frequency of having the exam -- every year or every two years. Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource recommends following a screening schedule developed by your doctor and based on your personal risks for breast cancer. The pap-smear question -- should I ask for a double-check of the results? Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource: While the Food and Drug Administration approved two new computerized tests to take a second look at your Pap test, Mayo doctors believe that such computerized re-screening isn't necessary for most women. For now, the new testing procedures don't appear to be any better at detecting missed cells than re-screening manually. And the computerized procedure can double the cost of your Pap test. But the choice is yours and some women choose to have a double-check for peace of mind.
Mayo Clinic also offers new advice for women who have had a hysterectomy: Continue to have a regular Pap test only if your cervix wasn't removed; you've had cancers of the uterus, vagina, vulva or ovaries; or if you have HPV, a sexually transmitted disease. The diet pill dilemma -- should I take them? Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource: There's no magic bullet when it comes to losing weight. That fact was made even clearer when Mayo Clinic physicians discovered that some women who took the appetite suppressant combination of fenfluramine and phentermine (fen-phen) developed serious heart valve problems. The 24 women in the report used fen-phen for an average of one year and appeared to be free of heart disease when they began taking the weight-loss medication. To lose weight, it's best to simply follow a low-fat, low-calorie diet and exercise regularly. HRT heft -- will I gain weight? Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource: Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) may actually help prevent the usual post-menopausal weight gain, rather than contribute to it, according to research reports. It's common to put on 10-15 pounds the first few years after menopause. It's also natural for your waist and hips to broaden. But it is a misconception to think that HRT is responsible.
In other HRT-related news, more studies are needed before Mayo recommends taking estrogen to prevent osteoarthritis. If you are using estrogen for menopause-related symptoms, you
may be getting more benefit then you expected. If you aren't on estrogen, you can help prevent osteoarthritis by maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding injuries to joints.
Headlines also raised concerns about drinking while taking estrogen. Mayo Clinic advises that until more studies are done, it is premature to worry that moderate drinking will increase your risk of breast cancer if you're taking HRT. Cancer quandary -- does the birth control pill increase my risk of breast cancer? Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource: Some studies suggest "yes," others don't. But the results from the Collaborative Group on Hormonal Factors in Breast Cancer analyzed 54 studies and the results showed no increased risk of breast cancer 10 or more years after women had stopped taking the pill, compared to women who had never taken it. Because breast cancer takes years to develop, researchers believe the pill probably enhances the growth of an existing tumor rather than initiating a new one. Screening question -- are breast self-exams beneficial? Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource: Mayo doctors and The American Cancer Society say that women should not abandon their monthly breast self-exams even though a 1997 study suggested no difference in the number of cancers detected between women who do and women who don't perform the exam. The reason, according to Mayo Clinic, is that women do find their own breast lumps, which can save precious time and get life-saving treatment started sooner.
Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource is a monthly newsletter published with the purpose of providing reliable, timely and easy-to understand medical and lifestyle information women can use to lead healthier lives. For subscription information, call 1-800-351-8963, ext. 68.
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