Huge Study Saved Lives And Closed Gender Gap In Research

By Ben Sutherly
The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio.

It has been credited with preventing thousands of cases of breast cancer. It has confounded medical experts on everything from diet to hormone therapy.

But the Women’s Health Initiative also has cut through some of the clutter of smaller medical studies that offer contradictory conclusions about what’s best for women’s health.

In large part because of the federal government’s initiative, “we know now that there are no shortcuts” to good health, said Dr. James Liu, chairman of the obstetrics and gynecology department at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland.

“It has shifted the onus of medical care from disease incidence-based … to prevention, which is probably the most cost-effective way of treatment.”

The study also has narrowed a gender gap in the treatment of women, said Dr. Rebecca Jackson, associate dean for clinical research at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center, who has overseen some of the research.

“Health recommendations for women are now based upon the best science of how something works in women,” Jackson said, not on data generated by studies of men.

More than 20 years after recruiting the first of more than 161,000 postmenopausal females — nearly 3,800 of them in central Ohio — the nation’s largest study of older women isn’t making a quiet exit from the medical scene.

The study is, and might always be, best known for its revelations that postmenopausal hormone therapy — particularly estrogen-plus-progestin therapy — increased the risk of heart attacks and breast cancer, particularly in women older than 60. (Such therapy, however, was found to lower the risk of fracture and menopausal symptoms.)

Though the study’s massive clinical trials have ended, it continues to track 93,000 women.

About 8,000 women in their 60s through late 90s were chosen as part of a study to determine what contributes to successful aging, said Dr. Jacques Rossouw, the chief of the Women’s Health Initiative since its inception.

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