Medical Monday: Breaking News from the World of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Women’s Health

The HPV vaccine has recently been vetted at the European Medicines Agency (EMA, the equivalent of the FDA). The EMA concluded that the benefits of Cervarix and Gardisil outweigh the risks. CDC (Center for Disease Control) Director Tom Frieden estimates that increasing the HPV vaccination rate to 80% would prevent 50,000 cases of cervical cancer in women.

Echoing results from last week, a study published in the Journal Hypertension has shown that those who had high blood pressure in pregnancy double their risk to develop the condition later in life. For diabetes, the risk quadruples.

Our largest and most foundational study on postmenopausal hormone therapy, the Women's Health initiative, (2002) was noteworthy for the fact that overall “estrogen plus progestin hormone replacement therapy" increased risk of "heart disease and breast cancer”.

Well the devil is always in the details, and sometimes angels too. It turns out that age makes a big difference the development of heart disease risk. If you “unpack" the data, you will see that women between the ages of 50 and 59 actually had a protective benefit to using hormone therapy, while women over 60 did not have the same advantage. Is interesting to remember that in this study all study participants  had never before taken any postmenopausal hormone replacement therapy. Therefore those who were 60 and older entering the study were beginning their hormone therapy approximately 10 years after the onset of menopause. Some researchers believe that it is that block of time after menopause but before initiation of hormone therapy in which silent atherosclerotic developed. If this is true then cardiovascular disease manifesting during the course the study would not really have been caused by the hormone replacement under study. Optimistic speculation leads us to wonder if women over 60 would do as well as their younger counterparts if they're hormone therapy has been started at the onset of menopause. It would be nice to know whether or not it is the youth of the women that caused them to do well with hormone therapy in their 50s or the fact that they started their hormone therapy immediately after the beginning of menopause.

It is interesting to note that age at the beginning of the study did not affect a woman's risk of breast cancer. Use of "estrogen plus progestin hormone replacement therapy” was and is clearly associated with increasing risk of breast cancer. (The same cannot be said for those who are able to use estrogen alone as their hormone therapy.) The lead investigator in this most recent study, Dr. Joanne Manson, indicated that "for every 1000 women per year not using hormone therapy, about 3 develop breast cancer” versus 4 out of “every 1000 women” using combined estrogen plus progestin hormone therapy.

A recent study has shown that only about half of women visited the dentist during pregnancy. Dental care in pregnancy is critical since many oral and tooth diseases have a direct impact on the pregnancy including increased risk of preterm labor.

Former Republican representative from Georgia Phil Gingrey has criticized the recent US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF)  recommendations on mammography citing the differing recommendations of the USPSTF, the American Cancer Society, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. He has urged for more time to study the basis of these differing recommendations, so that we can "analyze the research and arrive at a medical consensus”. He has introduced a bill entitled “Protect Access to Life-saving Screenings”, (PALS). This bill would place a two year moratorium on the USPSTF recommendations.

I am all for this and I dare say a great deal of unpacking the data will be necessary here. What will be important in the conversation is identifying the “harms" of screening. And please don't talk to me or the breast cancer survivors in my life about fear of and pain from mammograms, which have been cited by the USPSTF as harms. Besides this, it will also be imperative to study endpoints, not only survival, meaning and lack of death, but years of life. It seems like a subtle distinction but it seems to have been lost on the US Preventive Services Task Force thus far.

Support has come out for treatment of subclinical hypothyroidism (low thyroid) in pregnancy. A new study presented at the International Thyroid Congress has shown that treatment with synthroid or Levothyroxine in pregnancy for those with subclinical hypothyroidism “was associated with decreased low birth weight and Apgar scores". It was not however associated with a significant decrease in miscarriage. This will probably tip the wobbling scales in favor of universal thyroid testing in pregnancy. 

Any study recently published in the December issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology has shown that yoga is safe even late in pregnancy. Study participants were put through various yoga postures and measurements were taken of heart rate, blood pressure and other vital signs for mother and or baby. Although mothers often opted for various modifications of their poses, no ill effects were found.

In more happy news, the United Nations and the World Bank jointly issued a report Thursday noting that maternal death rates have dropped 43% worldwide since 1990. This is attributed to better access to higher quality health and sex education services.

Stay tuned for more news from the world of OB/GYN and women's health, next week on Medical Monday.