While there has been considerable publicity about the gender pay gap, it’s by no means the only inequality that women face on a widespread basis. We’ve learned that gender differences matter in all aspects of health and disease and we should not assume that study results for men are the same as for women. Historically, there has been a lack of gender-specific research which has had an impact on the ability of women to obtain accurate diagnosis and treatment. Because females have been generally excluded from research participation, they unfortunately have been overlooked in research findings.
Encouraging Researchers to Enroll More Women in Studies
There have been significant strides to encourage more gender-specific research which is enabling healthcare professionals to provide more specialized, effective care for women. More than 20 years ago, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) made a ruling that every study they funded had to state whether women and minorities were included and in what proportions. If women were not included, an explanation was required. In 2016, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Office of Women’s Health, in partnership with the NIH Office of Research on Women’s Health, launched the Diverse Women in Clinical Trials Campaign to further raise awareness about the importance of diverse women participating in clinical trials. The NIH, the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continue to develop new policies, programs and procedures to mandate and implement the inclusion of more women, as well as racial and ethnic minorities, in research.
The Challenge of Gender Disparity in Medical Research
Despite efforts to enroll more women in studies, there continues to be an under representation of female participants. According to the NIH, only one-third of cardiovascular clinical trial participants are female. Yet, cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of both men and women, and their presenting symptoms and response to treatments are different.
“Large gender gaps in research participation limit our findings on the difference between men’s and women’s health,” says Dr. Christina Brennan, MD, MBA, Vice-President, Clinical Research, Northwell Health. “Even when women are enrolled, the data is not analyzed and reported separately which can limit our understanding of findings.”
More recently, in the cases of heart disease, as well as lung cancer, there has been increased inclusion of women in research and clinical trials. This has led to greater knowledge and better tools for clinicians to provide optimal care for women.
Participating in a Clinical Trial
Although many women participate in clinical trials, there is still the need for greater involvement. Women from all ages, racial and ethnic groups can participate in trials, including those with disabilities or chronic health conditions. Through participation, women can make a difference by helping doctors learn more about women’s health.
Want to learn more about gender-specific research? At Katz Institute for Women’s Health, we’re here to answer your questions. Call the Katz Institute for Women’s Health Resource Center at 855-850-5494 to speak to a women’s health specialist.