Don’t Leave Women’s Health to Chance

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital April 30, 2015

Dr. Paula Johnson

The author of today’s post is Paula A. Johnson, MD, MPH, Executive Director of the Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Did you know that, 20 years ago, women and minorities were not routinely included in federally funded clinical trials? That changed in 1993 when President Bill Clinton signed into law the historic NIH Revitalization Act, making inclusion of women in health research a national priority.

Today, we know that women are different from men down to the cellular and molecular level. We see these differences across all organ systems — from our hearts to our joints, lungs, and brains. The Mary Horrigan Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital is dedicated to exploring and discovering why these differences occur, and translating those differences into clinical care. However, roadblocks remain in research and clinical care. Here are just a few examples:

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Rotating Shift Work May Increase Health Risks in Women

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital March 10, 2015

Rotating shift work may increase a woman’s risk of dying from heart disease or lung cancer.

New Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) research has found that long-term rotating shift work may increase a woman’s risk of dying from heart disease or lung cancer.

To examine the impact of rotating night shift work on mortality, BWH epidemiologist Dr. Eva Schernhammer and her research team analyzed 22-year medical histories of nearly 75,000 female nurses from the Nurses’ Health Study. The composition of the Nurses’ Health Study – exclusively female nurses – was particularly advantageous for Dr. Schernhammer’s purposes, as many nurses have rotating-shift schedules.

Compared to nurses who never worked night shifts, the researchers found that nurses who regularly worked rotating shifts for 6 to 14 years were 19 percent more likely to die from heart disease. (For this study, a rotating-shift worker was defined as someone who worked at least three nights per month, in addition to shifts at other times of the day.) Women who worked rotating shifts for 15 years or more were 23 percent more likely to die from heart disease and 25 percent more likely to die from lung cancer. The study also found that rotating shift workers were slightly more likely to die sooner, regardless of the cause.

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Women and Lung Cancer

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital November 13, 2014

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths among men and women in the United States. For women, it accounts for more deaths than breast, ovarian, and uterine cancer combined. Consequently, medical researchers have been working hard to increase our understanding of lung cancer and help us better prevent, diagnose, and treat the condition.

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Expanded Lung Cancer Screening Guidelines Expected to Save Lives

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital August 29, 2013

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has endorsed a BWH-led team's recommended use of low-dose CT for lung cancer screening.

In 2012, we published a post about the recommendations of a lung cancer screening and surveillance task force, led by Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) physicians, to expand the use of low-dose computed tomography (CT) scans for patients at high risk of lung cancer. Now, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), an independent panel of primary care physicians that evaluates preventive health services, has endorsed the recommendations of the BWH task force.

“More Americans die from lung cancer than any other type of cancer. This is a firm and determined recommendation in favor of screening, and there is high certainty that patients will benefit from this recommendation,” says Dr. Michael Jaklitsch, a thoracic surgeon at BWH and co-chair of a lung screening and surveillance task force established by the American Association for Thoracic Surgery (AATS).

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The Great American Smokeout: Make It the Event of a Lifetime

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital November 6, 2012

The American Cancer Society’s (ACS) 37th Great American Smokeout will take place on November 15, 2012, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital is joining the ACS in encouraging smokers to use that date as a launching point for developing a plan to quit – or to plan ahead to go cold turkey on that very day.

The reasons for quitting are numerous, but the benefit to your lungs is the most significant.

Not only is lung cancer the leading cause of cancer death in both U.S. men and women, but it is also one of the most preventable kinds of cancer. At least four out of five cases of lung cancer are associated with cigarette smoking, making tobacco use the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the U.S.

Despite these statistics, more than 45 million Americans continue to smoke cigarettes. However, it is estimated that more than half of these smokers also tried to quit for at least one day in the past year, demonstrating that just as the benefits of quitting are obvious, so are the difficulties of trying to kick the habit for good.

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New Lung Cancer Screening Guidelines Expand Eligibility

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital July 17, 2012

The new guidelines expand lung cancer screening eligibility to 94 million Americans.

A lung cancer screening and surveillance task force led by a Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) physician team, and established by the American Association for Thoracic Surgery (AATS), is strongly recommending new lung cancer screening guidelines that promote the expanded use of low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) scans.

Based on recent research showing that low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) screening can help reduce lung cancer deaths, the task force is now recommending annual LDCT lung cancer screening for the following patients:

  • Smokers and former smokers between the ages of 55 and 79 who have smoked the equivalent of a pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years.
  • Smokers and former smokers between the ages of 50 and 79 who have smoked the equivalent of a pack of cigarettes a day for 20 years and have other factors that raise their risk of developing lung cancer.
  • Long-term lung cancer survivors up to the age of 79 (to detect a second case of primary lung cancer).

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Risk Versus Benefit: Lung Cancer Screening

Posted by Blog Administrator April 30, 2012

lung cancer screening xray

A new CT screening test captures many views of the lungs, providing more detail than traditional x-ray lung cancer screening.

Any type of medical intervention – surgery, medications, even x-rays – involves some degree of risk. So the doctor or caregiver must always assess: Does the risk outweigh the benefit?

Lung cancer screening is a case in point. A new CT screening test captures many views of the lungs, providing more detail than traditional x-ray screening. This makes identification of early-stage lung cancer nodules more likely – and the earlier lung cancer is diagnosed, the greater the chance of survival.

But here’s the catch: CT scans emit small amounts of radiation, and accumulated radiation exposure increases risk for cancer. This puts Dr. Francine Jacobson and other radiologists at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) in an awkward situation. “I have to balance the risk for patients,” notes Dr. Jacobson, “between their exposure to ionizing radiation versus the benefits of the CT scan.”

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