Tuesday, May 31, 2005

A Thin Blue Line

I just stumbled across this site from the Office of NIH (Nat'l Institutes of Health) History called "A Thin Blue Line: The History of the Pregnancy Test Kit." It describes the NIH's history of research in pregnancy test development, but also includes interesting tidbits such as a timeline of pregnancy testing products, magazine ads, and television storylines that involved home pregnancy tests. The site also allows women to tell their stories of using the tests, and read others' stories.
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Thursday, May 26, 2005

Evaluating Health Websites

You need to know about a medical condition, so you Google it. Fine - Google can help you find websites. What Google can't do is tell you which of these websites are reliable, truthful, or up to date - that part is your responsibility. So how do you determine which of the million-plus results are actually good resources? Here are some things to look for:
-Who is the author of the site? Do they have any credentials to show they know what they're talking about? Is the author an MD, or is this some individual's website?
-Who are the sponsors of the site? Is the site paid for by drug companies or some other group that might have an influence on the content?
-When was the site updated? Information can change quickly, especially on drugs.
-Does the site provide any references? Does it tell you where the information came from?

Some additional tip sheets:
A User's Guide to Finding and Evaluating Health Information on the Web (Medical Library Association)
How To Evaluate Health Information on the Internet: Questions and Answers (National Cancer Institute)
MedlinePlus Guide to Healthy Web Surfing (National Library of Medicine)
10 Things To Know About Evaluating Medical Resources on the Web (National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine)
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Monday, May 23, 2005

Web Resource - Frequently Asked Questions

4woman.gov has numerous fact sheets with answers to frequently asked questions on women's health topics such as nutrition, reproductive health, minority women's health, heart conditions, preventive care and screenings, and more. A list of all the fact sheets with links is available online; click on the check mark to view the information. Some are specially marked as easy to read, and others are also available in Spanish.
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More on Breast Cancer Screening

The journal The Lancet has an article this week on the use of MRI for breast cancer screening in younger, higher risk patients. The article explains that breast tissue is denser in younger women, making traditional mammography less sensitive (less able to detect tumors). The study found that MRI was more sensitive than mammography, and results were even better when the two were combined.

The full-text of the article is available by subscription only (check your library), but a a summary is provided. To access the summary, you'll need to set up a free account on the Lancet site (or look for a login on BugMeNot). There is also another summary, from HealthDay News/4Woman.gov.
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Sunday, May 22, 2005

Why Not Earlier Mammograms?

I received a question about why doctors don't recommend that mammograms start earlier (they usually begin around age 40). Guidelines for early detection of cancer from the American Cancer Society give some reasons for the starting age:
-For most women, the risk of breast cancer is higher with age
-There seems to be little data on the value of mammography in younger women
-Risks include false positives, unnecessary biopsies, and over-treatment
-The risk of breast cancer as a result of radiation (from the testing) may increase if women begin screening at a younger age and have more mammograms over their lifetime
-The sensitivity of mammograms (ability to detect cancers) may be less in women under 40

However, some women are at a higher risk of breast cancer than others. For example, relatives with breast or ovarian cancer, or a relative who had breast cancer before age 50 indicates a higher risk. Some women may also have BRCA1 or 2 mutations (a genetic factor) that increase their risk. African American women may also have a higher risk of death from breast cancer, although they may get the disease less than Caucasian women. For these higher risk groups, the ACS guidelines suggest beginning mammography earlier (such as at age 30), screening more frequently, and/or using MRI or ultrasound screening. For younger women without these risks, having a breast exam done by a clinican is generally recommended. Your doctor can recommend the appropriate screening based on your own risk factors.

American Cancer Society Guidelines for Breast Cancer Screening: Update 2003
American Cancer Society Guidelines for the Early Detection of Cancer, 2005
Screening Mammograms: Questions and Answers
Understanding Breast Changes: A Health Guide for All Women
Improving Methods for Breast Cancer Detection and Diagnosis
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Friday, May 20, 2005

Why Women Don't Get Pap Tests

The CDC issued a press release on May 10 to release their finding that of women who hadn't had a Pap test even though they had seen a doctor in the past year, 87% said it was because their doctor hadn't recommended one. Pap tests screen for cervical cancer, which is preventable/curable.
The press release states, "This year there will be an estimated 10,370 new cases of cervical cancer diagnosed and about 3,710 women will die of the disease. Many of these deaths could be prevented if women received Pap tests regularly."

So ladies, ask about a Pap test, even if your physician doesn't bring it up.
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Thursday, May 19, 2005

No Benefits from Routine Episiotomy

This is a few days old now, but worth noting. The AHRQ (an agency that promotes quality, safe healthcare) released a report saying that routine use of episiotomy for uncomplicated births does not provide any benefits to women. The report says that women who had episiotomies had more pain than those who had tears, and that because it doesn't provide the benefits that people think, the use should be more limited. The full report is online (as a PDF), but is somewhat technical.

Episiotomy is apparently one of the most commonly performed surgical procedures, but these new reports suggest there isn't much evidence to suggest that it does what it's usually intended to do. Interestingly, I found articles suggesting this as far back as the 1970's...

Additional Links:
Episiotomy: A cut you may not need (from MayoClinic.com)
Study warns against unnecessary episiotomies (from Healthfinder.gov)
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Welcome to Women's Health News, a blog about news, laws, resources, and websites relevant to women's health issues, along with occasional search strategies for locating women's health information on your own. As a medical librarian-in-training, it is my goal to provide links to reliable, quality health information and resources that women can use to be more informed about their own health care.

You may be thinking, "Women's health - so is this blog just about menstruation?" In a word, no. So many issues are relevant to women's well-being; some of them you may eventually find posts on include: contraception, domestic violence, heart disease, infertility, menopause, mental health, pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, sexual and reproductive health, breast and cervical cancer, and yes, menstruation, as well as many other topics.

Of course, this blog comes with the standard disclaimer that any information presented here is not to be used in place of regular medical care from your physician. Enjoy!
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