Why do African American women suffer disproportionately from heart disease relative to the general population? Why do Native American women have the highest death rates for diabetes and the lowest survival rates for cancer than any other racial/ethnic population? There is much to learn about why and how people of different cultures, etnicities and socioeconomic status often suffer diseases at different rates and severity. Research is necessary to answer these and many other questions of why some populations have better health outcomes and how we can make improvements.
Research will answer why, for example, Hispanic women suffer less heart disease than other women. Is it genetics or lifestyle? And why do Asian American women have a higher incidence of osteoporosis than Caucasian women? It is crucial that more women of varying races and ethnicities take part in studies to make effective advances in treatment.
More research looking at the unique health profiles of minority populations is also important for the development of better diagnostic practices and prevention strategies. Limited data available on Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) women, for example, suggests that low awareness and misinformation contributes to low breast and cervical cancer screening rates. Similarly, the HIC incidence rate for Hispanic women is increasing while the rate for other minority groups is dropping, signifying a failing preventive education strategy. Without more research to fully understand healthy care needs, conducting effective health promotion and screening is near impossible.
Just as there is much to learn about how culture and race affect health, we also need to gain a better understanding of basic biologic differences between men and women in the way they develop disease, display symptoms and respond to treatment. Until recently, studies have not focused on analyzing the biological and physiological differences between men and women, creating a large knowledge gap. The recent Institute of Medicine report, Exploring the Biological Contributions to Human health: Does Sex Matter?, points to this lack of knowledge and the mounting evidence that sex differences exist, and calls for further research to better understand these differences.
When it comes to opening the doors to research, education is really the key. The Society for Women's Health Research is conducting a public awareness campaign called Some Things Only a Woman Can Do to educate women about the importance of medical research and increased participation of women of all races and ethnicities. The campaign explains what medical research is what women should know about participating, and how to find disease-specific studies. The Web site, www.Woman-CanDo.org, also provides information about top health concerns specific to African American, Native American, Hispanic/Latina and Asian American women.
The American Cancer Society also works tirelessly to eliminate health disparities through a commitment to prevention and treatment research and effective public health interventions. To alleviate the burden of cancer and other diseases among minorities, we must learn more about women of all races and ethnicities. There are some things only a woman can do, and taking control of the future of women's health research is one of them.
To find out more about women's health research and clinical trials, log on to www.WomanCanDo.org or call 1-877-33CanDo (1-877-332-2636).
For more information about cancer, call 1-800-ACS-2345 toll-free or visit the American Cancer Society at www.cancer.org.
Phyllis Greenberger, MSW
Society for Women's Health Research