Category: Women’s Health

Dr. Leana Wen Selected as New President of Planned Parenthood

Last week, it was announced that Dr. Leana Wen, Baltimore City Health Commissioner, will serve as the new president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, an organization that provides vital sexual and reproductive health care and education to millions of people around the world. Dr. Wen will be the first physician in almost 50 years to serve in this role. She will succeed Cecile Richards, who has served as president of Planned Parenthood for the past 12 years.

Dr. Wen, an emergency medicine physician, has led the Baltimore City Health Department since January 2015. She is a passionate public health leader and active champion for communities and patients. During her tenure as Baltimore City Health Commissioner, Dr. Wen led a lawsuit against the Trump administration after its abrupt decision to cut funding for teen pregnancy prevention programs, resulting in $5 million of funding being restored to two of these programs in Baltimore. Additionally, Dr. Wen has fought to preserve Title X in Baltimore, which funds a variety of health care services for low-income women.

Dr. Wen is no stranger to Planned Parenthood. After she and her family immigrated to the U.S. from China, they depended on Planned Parenthood for their health care. Dr. Wen also volunteered at a Planned Parenthood health center in St. Louis during medical school.

In a recent statement posted on the Baltimore City Health Department website, Dr. Wen wrote:

“A core principle in public health is to go where the need is. The single biggest public health catastrophe of our time is the threat to women’s health and the health of our most vulnerable communities.”

She continues, in referring to Planned Parenthood, writing:

“I have seen firsthand the lifesaving work it does for our most vulnerable communities. As a doctor, I will ensure we continue to provide high-quality health care, including the full range of reproductive care, and will fight to protect the access of millions of patients who rely on Planned Parenthood.”

Dr. Wen’s last day as Baltimore City Health Commissioner will be Friday, October 12th, where she will then begin her new role as President of Planned Parenthood.

References:

Planned Parenthood. (N.d.). Dr. Leana Wen. Retrieved from  https://www.plannedparenthood.org/about-us/our-leadership/dr-leana-wen

Planned Parenthood. (N.d.). Cecile Richards. Retrieved from  https://www.plannedparenthood.org/about-us/our-leadership/cecile-richards

Zernike, Kate. (2018, September 12). Planned Parenthood Names Leana Wen, a Doctor, Its New President. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/12/us/politics/planned-parenthood-president-wen.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fpolitics

Wen, Leana S. (2018, July 6). Trump’s family planning dystopia. Retrieved from http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bs-ed-op-0708-wen-dystopia-20180703-story.html

Baltimore City Health Department. (2018, September 12). Statement from Baltimore City Health Commissioner, Dr. Leana Wen. Retrieved from https://health.baltimorecity.gov/news/press-releases/2018-09-12-statement-baltimore-city-health-commissioner-dr-leana-wen

Soot Happens

A new study released from the Queen Mary University of London has shown for the first time that air pollution exposure can affect a pregnant woman’s placenta. The placenta is a vital organ which develops during a woman’s pregnancy. It is responsible for providing nutrients and oxygen to a developing baby. In addition, it also serves as an immune system barrier for the baby, which is vulnerable during pregnancy. Any injuries inflicted on the placenta can have serious health effects on the unborn child.

The Queen Mary study examined placenta cells of five women who were exposed to air pollution. Within the samples, researchers found evidence of the presence of soot. Soot is a common air pollutant classified as particulate matter. This type of pollution is made of large damaging particles, and can often be found coming from power plants, manufacturing sites, and motor vehicles. Soot exposure is dangerous, and it is the cause of thousands of premature deaths annually. The findings of this study are novel and alarming – it demonstrates that inhaled particulate matter can travel from the lungs to the placenta.

Placental immune cells are necessary to keep an unborn baby healthy. If the placental immune system is compromised, so is that of the growing baby. It is still unclear what this study’s findings mean for fetal-placental health in the long term. However, researchers on this study are particularly concerned about how soot exposure may disrupt this system.

One thing is clear – this news is disturbing. The study demonstrated that air pollution damage does not stop at the lungs. The conversation about air pollution is not always an environmental one; many pollutants like soot affect human health dramatically. Going forward, it is important to consider how these findings should influence policy. Regulating air pollution is a necessary step to take in order to protect the health of people worldwide.

 

 

https://www.momscleanairforce.org/soot-facts/

https://www.qmul.ac.uk/media/news/2018/smd/first-evidence-that-soot-from-polluted-air-may-be-reaching-placenta.html

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/placenta/art-20044425

https://www.nichd.nih.gov/research/supported/HPP/default

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3025805/

 

 

Revised Cervical Cancer Screening Guidelines Offer Women More Options

New recommendation guidelines for cervical cancer screening were published this month in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). These guidelines are an update to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) 2012 recommendations on cervical cancer screening. The new screening guidelines now offer women more options and longer screening intervals when it comes to their preventative care. One of the most notable guideline changes is that women aged 30-65 can now get an HPV test alone every 5 years instead of just a Pap smear alone every 3 years, or in combination with a Pap smear every 5 years.

According to the guidelines:

  • Women aged 21-29 years should get a Pap smear every 3 years
  • Women aged 30-65 years can get:
    • A Pap smear alone every 3 years
    • An HPV test alone every 5 years
    • A combination of a Pap smear and HPV test every 5 years

The USPSTF does not recommend screening for women younger than 21 years as well as women older than 65 years who have received adequate screening before and are not at high-risk for cervical cancer.

Cervical cancer was once a major cause of death among women. However, with the advent of screening tests, such as Pap smears, cervical cancer rates have fallen considerably over the years. Still, the American Cancer Society estimates 13,240 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2018.

Almost all cervical cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), a common sexually transmitted infection. There are many types of HPV, some low-risk and some high-risk. Low-risk HPV types can cause warts that can be treated. High-risk types, however, can cause cancer. While the body can often fight off HPV infection, this is not always the case. Some HPV infections can become chronic, and chronic infections with high-risk HPV types can lead to cancer in both men and women if left untreated. However, there are vaccines that can prevent cancers, like cervical cancer in women, caused by HPV. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that all children get vaccinated against HPV at age 11 or 12. For young women in particular, the CDC recommends they get vaccinated through age 26.

Because it can take years for cancer caused by HPV to develop and for symptoms to appear, the CDC encourages women to regularly screen for cervical cancer. This includes both women who have and have not vaccinated against HPV, as the HPV vaccine does not protect against all types of HPV that can cause cancer.

References

U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. (2018). Cervical Cancer Screening. Retrieved from  https://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/Page/Document/UpdateSummaryFinal/cervical-cancer-screening2

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017, December 16). The Link Between HPV and Cancer. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/hpv/parents/cancer.html

National Institutes of Health. (2018, June 30). Cervical Cancer. Retrieved from

https://report.nih.gov/nihfactsheets/viewfactsheet.aspx?csid=76

American Cancer Society. (2017, November 1). What Are the Risk Factors for Cervical Cancer? Retrieved from

https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cervical-cancer/causes-risks-prevention/risk-factors.html

U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. (2012). Archived: Cervical Cancer: Screening. Retrieved from

https://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/Page/Document/UpdateSummaryFinal/cervical-cancer-screening

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018, August 23). HPV Vaccines: Vaccinating Your Preteen or Teen. Retrieved from

https://www.cdc.gov/hpv/parents/vaccine.html

American Cancer Society. (2015, February 19). HPV and Cancer. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/infectious-agents/hpv-fact-sheet

American Cancer Society. (2017, October 9). HPV and Cancer. Retrieved from

https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/infectious-agents/hpv/hpv-and-cancer-info.html

Discrimination and Health Part I: LGBTQ+ Americans

Past research has suggested that discrimination can impact health outcomes – perhaps through vehicles such as stress of daily interactions and negative experiences with the healthcare system. One group whose experiences with discrimination can be linked to negative health outcomes is LGBTQ+ Americans. A study found that over half of LGBTQ people have experience slurs and offensive comments, and over half have been sexually harassed or experienced violence, or had an LGBTQ friend or family member experience such trauma.

We can make the connection between discrimination and trauma through various factors. One is through microaggressions –  seemingly harmless daily interactions with others who express, in this case, homophobic or transphobic views. These have been found to negatively impact health. Another is through discrimination within the healthcare system that lead LGBTQ Americans to seek healthcare less frequently. 18% of this population has avoided necessary medical care. Various forms of discrimination they face at the hands of medical professionals, police, and community members are much worse for those of color and those who are transgender.

Unfortunately, we can already see the health outcomes of discrimination to this population – they have higher rates of psychiatric disorders, substance dependence (including higher tobacco use), and suicide; lesbian women are less likely to get preventative services for cancer, and gay men are at higher risk for certain STIs.

How can we work to eliminate these gaps, even when interpersonal discrimination may take longer to tackle as our culture continues to evolve? HealthyPeople2020 provides several recommendations. First, healthcare providers should discuss sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) respectfully with patients, and collect data on it. Medical students should be trained in LGBTQ culturally-responsive care. In addition, we must be spokespeople against legal discrimination of this population in social services such as employment, housing, and health insurance.

Sources:

https://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/topics-objectives/topic/lesbian-gay-bisexual-and-transgender-health

https://www.npr.org/documents/2017/nov/npr-discrimination-lgbtq-final.pdf

https://www.centerforhealthjournalism.org/2017/11/08/how-racism-and-microaggressions-lead-worse-health

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/microaggressions-in-everyday-life/201011/microaggressions-more-just-race

http://www.apa.org/topics/health-disparities/fact-sheet-stress.aspx

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2747726/pdf/nihms134591.pdf

What’s going on with the HPV vaccine?

HPV is the most common STI, and 9 of every 10 people will have an infection at some point in their lives (1).  This virus can cause cancers in the cervix, penis, mouth, and oropharynx (2), and it also causes genital warts (3).  Even though a vaccine exists against HPV, less than half of teens are up to date on all of their doses of these shots (2).

Part of the reason behind these low vaccination rates are due to parents concerns regarding vaccine safety and fear that vaccination will encourage sexual activity (4).  Though all vaccines, including this one, have potential side effects, the HPV vaccine is considered safe (4). Additionally, studies have shown that the HPV vaccine does not make teens more likely to start having sex (4).

The way providers approach talking about the HPV has also influenced vaccine rates, and strong provider endorsement seems to improve vaccinations (5).  On Monday, March 19, Chris Noronha spoke with the Interdisciplinary Health Communications Class about the work he is doing with Noel Brewer on provider communication regarding the HPV vaccine.  They have found that when providers mention the HPV vaccine in the same list as other vaccines that are due at age 11, vaccination rates increase.

If you’re interested in the HPV vaccine, it may not be too late.  You can receive the series through age 26 (1).  Contact your provider if you’re interested.

 

Works Cited
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccine Safety. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. [Online] January 30, 2018. https://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/vaccines/hpv-vaccine.html.
  2. Aubrey, Allison. This Vaccine Can Prevent Cancer, But Many Teenagers Still Don’t Get It. National Public Radio. [Online] February 19, 2018. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/02/19/586494027/this-vaccine-can-prevent-cancer-but-many-teenagers-still-dont-get-it.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What is HPV. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. [Online] December 20, 2016. https://www.cdc.gov/hpv/parents/whatishpv.html.
  4. —. Talking to Parents About HPV vaccine. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. [Online] December 2016. https://www.cdc.gov/hpv/hcp/for-hcp-tipsheet-hpv.pdf.
  5. Narula, Tara. HPV vaccine: Why aren’t children getting it? CBS News. [Online] July 23, 2017. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/hpv-vaccination-cancer-prevention-dr-tara-narula/.

 

 

“The Angelina Effect”

In this day of age celebrities dominate our world. They hold elected office, they are activists, they are social media entrepreneurs, they are everywhere. Whether we like to believe it or not they have influence over our behaviors and how we make decisions. I’m guilty that most of the accounts I follow on Instagram are former Bachelor contestants and catch myself wanting to mimic their fashion and fitness routines. In fact, there has been research that has examined this phenomenon. Back in 2013, esteemed actress Angelina Jolie announced that she carries the a genetic mutation that greatly increases your risk of breast and ovarian cancer (BRCA1). In her New York Times opt ed piece, Jolie reveals that she lost her mom, aunt and grandmother to cancer and that influence her decision to undergo preventive surgery to remove both of her breasts (mastectomy) and ovaries. After this announcement, several researchers explored what came to be known as “The Angelina Effect” and how her decision influenced other women’s decisions about their own health. In a study published in Health Services Research journal, hospital data from both New York and the UK revealed that three months after Jolie’s announcement there was a significant increase in preventive mastectomies prior to the announcement. This trend has been seen with other celebrities after announcements of diagnoses and provides incentives for both public figures and healthcare providers to use these instances as teachable moments and bring awareness to employ preventive healthcare.

To learn more about the BRCA1 gene visit the following site: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/genetics/brca-fact-sheet#q1

 

 

 

Pollution and Pregnancy: A Match Made in Hell

A recent study in the journal Biological Psychiatry has found that mothers exposed to air pollution during pregnancy have children at higher risk of cognitive health problems, due to brain alteration during fetal development. Such abnormalities resulted in issues such as impulse control and behavioral problems. Researchers believe that long-term impacts could include high-risk activity, such as addiction, as well as mental health disorders and low academic achievement.

Previous research has associated high levels of pollution with poor development in the womb, but this study found that these risks occur even when pregnant mothers were living in places with air pollution levels deemed acceptable. This raises questions of whether our air quality measurement standards are adequate and accurate.

Researchers compare this troubling finding with the field’s existing knowledge of the dangers of smoking during pregnancy – Dr. John Krystal, editor of the journal that published the study, draws the parallel that both scenarios involve “inhaling toxins.” We already know that other environmental factors (like stress, lead exposure, and pesticides) can lead to adverse outcomes during pregnancy, but it seems that regulatory policies for some environmental risks fall short of others. Translating research findings to the public – and focusing on productive solutions instead of instilling fear in those with no choice of residence – are key roles for public health moving forward.

Sources:

https://www.usnews.com/news/national-news/articles/2018-03-14/air-pollution-within-levels-considered-safe-changes-brain-development-leads-to-cognitive-impairment

http://time.com/3757864/air-pollution-babies/

http://www.biologicalpsychiatryjournal.com/article/S0006-3223(18)30064-7/fulltext

How many teens are sexting?

When we go on the internet and listen to stories, we often hear comments about sexting among teens.  With all of this talk, it may sound like this is something that all teens are doing.  However, according to a study published this week by JAMA Pediatrics, only about 14.8% of teens have sent these messages, and approximately 27.4% of teens have received a sext [1].  This means that roughly 17 out of 20 teens have never sent sexually explicit images, videos, or messages.

Though this rate is lower than we may have expected, sexting is becoming more commonplace, and that is cause for concern. Many teens, view sexting as private and therefore safe.  However, approximately 12%, are forwarding sexts without consent of the sender [1]. Additionally, many teens don’t realize that even though some messaging apps that allow video and image sharing appear private, they may not be [2].

Often times, sexting is a normal by-product of teens trying to establish their identities and wanting to explore their sexuality [2].  However, many teens just are not aware of the dangers that can come with sexting.  Along with these concerns, teens just need to be reminded that it’s not OK for them to be pressured to share more of their bodies than they’re comfortable, and that consent is theirs to give.

[1]  Madigan, S., Ly, A., & Rash, C. L. (2018, February 26). Prevalence of Multiple Forms of Sexting Behavior Among Youth. Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2017.5314

[2]  Gabriel, E. (2018, February 26). 1 in 4 young people has been sexted, study finds. Retrieved from CNN: https://www.cnn.com/2018/02/26/health/youth-sexting-prevalence-study/index.html

Achieving Health Equity and Justice through the Reproductive Justice Framework: keynote by Monica Raye Simpson

This past Friday marked the 39th annual Minority Health Conference, which is the largest and longest run student-led health conference in the world. This year’s 20th annual William T. Small Jr. keynote speaker was Monica Raye Simpson, who is the executive director of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, gave a keynote address titled: “Achieving Health Equity and Justice through the Reproductive Justice Framework”. In the talk, Simpson gave an energetic and powerful where she gave a history of the Reproductive Justice framework, and how her own life experiences shaped how she approaches her work. One of her main points was how the Reproductive Justice Framework’s focus on centering those who are the most marginalized is critical for the field of Public Health, in order to overcome health inequities. In case you were not able to attend the event in person, the keynote speech is available for broadcast in the link below, moderated by yours truly.

Sources: https://sph.unc.edu/sph-webcast/2018-02-23_mhc/

America’s Mothers Dying

By Young Kim-Parker

Baby announcements are generally considered a joyous occasion. Culturally, we celebrate motherhood with baby showers, offering well-wishes and gifts to welcome the arrival of a new life. However, perhaps we should also start exhibiting more concern because in America the number of mothers dying from complications due to pregnancy and childbirth is on the rise.

On November 18th, CNN placed a spotlight on maternal mortality with guest reporter Christy Turlington Burns (yes, the former supermodel) to bring attention to America’s glaring lack of support for mothers [1]. Christy Turlington Burns nearly died after childbirth due to complications during the third stage of labor – after the child is born, women continue to labor to deliver the placenta. Her experience propelled her to form the non-profit, Every Mother Counts, to bring greater awareness to maternal health issues. CNN is airing their newest documentary mini-series, “Giving Birth in America,” to bring greater attention to a very real concern of the growing number of mothers at risk of dying from pregnancy and childbirth despite all of the technological advances of the 21st century [1].

The U.S. has the highest maternal mortality rate among industrialized countries, and maternal deaths cut across socioeconomic status – even those with graduate education and high incomes are at risk [2]. Consider the sudden death of a neo-natal nurse, Lauren Bloomstein, who died within 24 hours of giving birth at the regional health center where she worked (she died from severe pre-eclampsia – pregnancy-related high blood pressure – that was diagnosed too late) [3]. The tragedy lies in how many of these deaths are preventable. Globally, a United Nations commitment to reduce maternal mortality resulted in nearly 30-45% reduction in maternal deaths from 1990 – 2015 [2]. For the U.S., maternal deaths rose an estimated 60% during that period [2].

Individual states have taken action to pay more attention to mothers’ health needs. In the case of California, have successfully reduced their mortality rates by 55% [2]. Four states, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, and Oregon, have expanded Medicaid perinatal services to cover doulas, individuals uniquely trained to support expecting mothers throughout their pregnancy and after birth [4]. Increasing the training of doulas and insurance coverage of their services could save lives – cities such as Baltimore, New York, Chicago and Tampa have already begun doula training programs for the dual purposes of supporting mothers to have healthier pregnancies and to reduce infant mortality [5]. While doula training may not be sufficient, it seems to be an immediate opportunity to save lives. In time, one can only hope that more states and insurance companies will begin to cover doula services. In the meantime, instead of buying onesies and rattles for the next friend that is expecting, I’ll be contributing to doula services.

References:

[1] Burns, C. T. (2017, November 18). Maternal mortality is the shame of US health care. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2017/11/15/opinions/op-ed-christy-turlington-burns-every-mother-counts-2017/index.html

[2] Merelli, A. (2017, October 29). What’s killing America’s new mothers? Retrieved from QUARTZ: https://qz.com/1108193/whats-killing-americas-new-mothers/

[3] Martin, N., & Montagne, R. (2017, May 12). Focus on Infants During Childbirth Leaves U.S. Moms in Danger. Retrieved from National Public Radio, Inc.: https://www.npr.org/2017/05/12/527806002/focus-on-infants-during-childbirth-leaves-u-s-moms-in-danger

[4] Gifford, K., Walls, J., Ranji, U., Salganicoff, A., & Gomez, I. (2017, April 27). Medicaid Coverage of Pregnancy and Perinatal Benefits: Results from a State Survey. Retrieved from Kaiser Family Foundation: https://www.kff.org/womens-health-policy/report/medicaid-coverage-of-pregnancy-and-perinatal-benefits-results-from-a-state-survey/

[5] Ollove, M. (2017, September 25). Cities turn to doulas to give black babies a better chance at survival. Retrieved from The Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/cities-turn-to-doulas-to-give-black-babies-a-better-chance-at-survival/2017/09/22/07420956-8363-11e7-ab27-1a21a8e006ab_story.html?utm_term=.8d953053d40c