Why medical research often ignores women
The picture remains tacked to Julie Palmer’s office wall: a female doctor and colleague from UCLA who died last year, age only 50, from lung cancer.
“I was so sad when I learned about it,” says Palmer (SPH’85), a School of Public Health professor of epidemiology. “She was a Renaissance woman. She played varsity basketball at Northwestern—she was six feet tall or something like that. She wrote poetry” in between medicine and research. “A wonderful woman doing groundbreaking work out there in LA. Never smoked.”
The photo serves as a stark reminder to Palmer of a troubling fact: nonsmoking women are far more likely to get lung cancer than nonsmoking men, she says, yet lung cancer research frequently doesn’t break down data according to gender-specific factors, as evidenced by a recent study by Brigham and Women’s Hospital and George Washington University. In fact, the study found medical research in many areas, including cardiovascular disease (which kills more women than men), often includes few women subjects, or else doesn’t report results by gender. Among the report’s findings: only one third of subjects in cardiovascular clinical trials are female, and while depression is more prevalent in women than men, brain studies in male animals outnumber those in female animals five to one.