Global Health Asia-Pacific May 2022 May 2022 - Page 42

Feature

Gender medicine is key to improving female health

Researching the biological and social health drivers across genders will benefit patients , especially women who have been long excluded from research
Some studies , for instance , show that common types of cancer immunotherapy are more effective in men than women probably due to immune system differences

Taking into account how sex and gender differences can affect patients is a crucial issue in medicine and could go a long way towards providing better individualised care . Women , in particular , are likely to reap substantial benefits under this approach given their decades-long underrepresentation in medical research , Dr Mia von Euler , a professor of neurology at Örebro University in Sweden , told Global Health Asia-Pacific .

Some studies , for instance , show that common types of cancer immunotherapy are more effective in men than women probably due to immune system differences . The revolutionary treatment can improve survival in some patients with malignancies like skin and lung cancers by teaching immune cells to kill cancer .
Similarly , the reasons for not getting screened for colon cancer through stool testing may differ between the sexes . Men typically cite a fear of what the results could be , while women tend to skip it because they find taking a stool sample disgusting . These findings mean that a one-size-fits-all approach to raising awareness of the importance of colon cancer screening won ’ t be effective , she said .
Dr von Euler believes that such differences require more investigation to ensure everyone receives the best care possible , which may differ from person to person , like the size of a sweater fits people differently . “ I think sex and gender medicine would benefit both men and women as there are conditions like incontinence that are poorly studied in men because they are more prevalent in women ,” she explained .
A key way to make medicine more individualised is to conduct medical research in a way that facilitates detection of sex and gender differences , an objective that has been dismissed for decades while researchers continued to test the efficacy of experimental treatments mostly on males based on the supposition that the results would be equally applicable to women as well .
This historical assumption has significantly affected women ’ s health . For instance , the medical discourse on heart attacks has long been framed around typical male symptoms , like chest pain , while giving less prominence to those common among women , such as nausea and shortness of breath . It ’ s no surprise , then , that women with heart problems have been misdiagnosed more often than men or that many females have perceived cancer as a bigger health threat than heart disease which actually remains the biggest killer of women .
In 2013 , the US Food and Drug Administration ( FDA ) had to slash in half the women ’ s recommended dose of a popular sleep drug because females on the standard dosage were much more likely than men to experience cognitive limitations like driving impairment eight hours after taking it due to differences in how men and women absorb the drug . “ I think that ’ s an example of women being underserved ,” Dr Michelle Petri , director of the Lupus Center at Johns Hopkins , told Global Health Asia-Pacific , adding that she keeps seeing women who are still on a dose that exceeds the maximum recommended for them .
The dosage of a popular sleeping pill varies between men and women
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