Women's Health Research: The Cervix, the Uterus, and Ovaries, Oh My

Though men and women share many of the same health risks and conditions, including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, stroke, and dementia, women do have some unique health issues related to pregnancy, menopause, and female organs. Here we review a few recent discoveries related exclusively to women's health.

 Cervical Cancer: Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common viral infection of the reproductive tract. Most sexually-active women (and men) will be infected and some may be repeatedly infected. Fourteen of the more than 100 types of HPV are cancer-causing (known as "high-risk type") and 2 of those cause 70% of cervical cancers and pre-cancerous cervical lesions. Vaccines that protect against HPV have been available since 2006, but what about those who are already infected? Research recently published indicates a cure may be on the horizon. A therapeutic immune-based vaccine studied by Michigan Medicine at the University of Michigan completely eliminated both precancerous cervical lesions and the underlying HPV infection in one-third of the women enrolled in the clinical trial.

 Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): A first-of-its-kind PCOS study discovered that half of women with PCOS have a common genetic variant called DENND1A, a gene that is involved in the production of male hormones and is an important regulator of human ovarian androgen biosynthesis, a biologic pathway that is interrupted in cases of PCOS. The result of the research is that a new screening tool may be developed that can help identify high-risk individuals earlier and also that drugs can be developed to target the genetic pathways involved. PCOS affects an estimated five to 15% of premenopausal women worldwide and is the primary cause of infertility and type 2 diabetes in women.

 Uterine Fibroids: Most women will develop uterine fibroids at some time in their lives. Some women don't even know they have them. Others experience symptoms so severe that doctors advise a hysterectomy, resulting in more than 200,000 of the procedures in the U.S. each year. According to recently published research , though, uterine fibroid embolization (UFE) effectively treats fibroids with few post-procedure complications compared to myomectomy, another option that is a major surgical procedure that removes the fibroids. UFE is minimally invasive, is less painful, preserves the uterus, has a faster recovery time, and has a lower need for additional treatment. 

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Stephanie Jones