Archive for the ‘Wmens Health’ Category


Solarium operators face court grilling

Cancer patient Clare Oliver

Anti-sunbed crusader: Clare Oliver (The 7.30 Report)

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Australia’s consumer watchdog is taking three solarium operators to court, accusing them of misleading the public about the risks of tanning.

The Federal Court action is being taken against Tropical Sun Industries, Body Bronze International and the Australian Tanning Association.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) alleges the organisations engaged in false, misleading and deceptive conduct.

The ACCC is also launching action against Scott Meneilly, the former president of the ATA and the current chief executive of Body Bronze.

The watchdog is concerned about comments made after the death of Melbourne anti-tanning crusader Clare Oliver.

Ms Oliver’s doctor, Associate Professor Grant MacArthur, has told AM he is not surprised by the court action.

“There was really a disconnect between the available medical evidence in the way that the industry were promoting their product,” he said.

“It is inevitable that this sort of action would come about.

“I think this is a very significant step forward in the battle against melanoma, and I think it’s absolutely clear that Clare would be absolutely thrilled to see the industry having to face court in this way,” he added.


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HRT ‘may still be worth risk’

Women are being warned they should not necessarily stop taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT), despite a new study linking a decrease in the use of HRT to a fall in breast cancer rates.

The drop of about seven per cent in the incidence of breast cancer amongst Australian women over 50 corresponds with a 40 per cent fall in the number of women using HRT.

But Dr Helen Zorbas from the National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre says HRT may still be worth the risk for many women.

“For short term use, it still remains an effective means of controlling the symptoms of menopause if these symptoms are very severe,” she said.

“For many women those symptoms really affect quality of life in a very severe way.”

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Britain keeps legal abortion limit at 24 weeks

Britain’s Parliament has voted to keep the upper legal limit on abortion at 24 weeks, disappointing campaigners who argue survival rates have improved.

The vote blocked attempts to lower the legal limit to 22, 20, 16 or 12 weeks in Parliament’s first look at abortion laws in almost two decades.

The upper limit was reduced from 28 weeks to 24 weeks in 1990. Britain legalised abortion in 1968.

Many European countries allow abortion on demand up to 12 or 13 weeks in to pregnancy, after which it is limited to cases where the baby or mother is at risk.

Termination is legal up to 22 to 24 weeks in Spain, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

For three hours, British Parliamentarians passionately debated the right of women to choose versus the right of a foetus to live.

“While there have been medical advances in caring for premature babies, only a small number born after 24 weeks gestation can survive,” Health Minister Dawn Primarolo told Parliament, arguing for the status quo.

She said there was no scientific evidence showing a significant improvement in a baby’s chance of survival at 24 weeks since the 1990 law.

Labour law-maker Julie Morgan said any move to reduce the upper limit was an attack on abortion and the right to choose.

But proponents of a reduction said it was morally wrong for babies at 24 weeks to be terminated when they could survive and that foetal pain and distress must be taken into account.

“I think there comes a point when it has to be said this baby has a right to life also,” Conservative lawmaker and former nurse Nadine Dorries said, who argued for a 20-week limit and offered a graphic description of late terminations.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown had said he favoured 24 weeks.

Around 200,000 abortions were carried out in Britain in 2006, of which about 3,000 were conducted after 20 weeks, 1.5 per cent of the total.

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Mutant gene involved in female epilepsy

Researchers in Adelaide have discovered the mutant gene responsible for epilepsy in women.

It is a ground-breaking discovery and the team from the University of Adelaide and the Adelaide Women’s and Children’s Hospital has had its findings published today in the journal, Nature Genetics.

The discovery came after scientists, including lead researcher Dr Leanne Dibbens, identified a number of families in which only females suffered from epilepsy and intellectual disability.

Dr Dibbens and her team investigated what genetic defect may be causing the pattern and discovered all these families carried mutants of the same gene.

“We found that these families carry different mutations in the one gene and that when females who carry one good copy and one bad copy of the gene, they are actually affected, whereas males, even when they carry only a bad copy of the gene, they are not affected,” she said.

Current research is under way to determine why males are not affected by this gene mutation.

“We have a lead in that we know that there’s a related gene on the Y chromosome, and only males carry a Y chromosome, and so we think that this gene is perhaps protecting or rescuing the males in these families from this condition,” Dr Dibbens said.

Although the discovery does not promise an immediate cure for the genetic condition, or other epilepsy cases, Dr Dibbens says that it does provide some help for these families.

“The most immediate ramification is that we can now offer genetic counselling to these families that suffer ESMR and people can choose to have pre-natal testing if that’s what they desire and make decisions on whether they have daughters with this condition,” she said.

“And the wider implications are that we now know that this gene family is involved in epilepsy and intellectual disability and so we’ll be looking to see whether this gene or other related genes also play a role in these more common disorders.”

The next step, according to Dr Dibbens is to look at a greater sample of patients with other related disorders which are currently little understood.

“We’ll now be looking at larger groups of patients with epilepsy, intellectual disability, and a number of the females affected in these families have autistic features and obsessive features and so we’ll also be looking at patient cohorts with those features,” she said.

“Very little is known about the genetic causes of epilepsy, even the common epilepsies.

“Intellectual disability, we have come a way in understanding causes of that, but in particular, autism and obsessive traits really, very little is known about the genetic causes of those disorders.”

Dr Dibbens is confident that while cure or prevention are a long way off, this new research will allow scientists to develop a much greater understanding of how genetics play a role in mental diseases.

“It gives us a chance now to dive in and look at the roles of these types of genes and what roles are playing in the brain and what happens when these processes go wrong and why it leads to autism and obsessive traits,” she said.

“It’s always difficult to predict where the research will go and what it would lead to, but we hope that it will enable more genetic counselling and possibly treatments and ultimately prevention. But that’s a few years off yet.”

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Midwifery school product of 50-year Ethiopian dream

By David Mark

Dr Catherine Hamlin in a maternity ward in an Ethiopian hospital

Dr Catherine Hamlin: has devoted almost 50 years to helping Ethiopian women give birth. (File photo) (Unspecified)

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Some people have dreams and they remain just that, but an Australian gynaecologist has realised her 50-year passion – opening a midwifery school in Ethiopia.

Dr Catherine Hamlin’s new school is designed to train midwives to help women in rural areas of Ethiopia where women suffer horrendous injuries because of obstructed labour.

About 30 minutes out of the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, Dr Catherine Hamlin is opening a new midwifery school and says it fulfills an ambition that began when she arrived in Ethiopia with her husband 49 years ago.

“It is a fulfilment of a great dream I’ve had because we’ve been mending these girls for nearly 50 years and we’ve been doing nothing about prevention,” she said.

The couple did briefly open a school in 1960, but it was closed down due to a lack of funds three years later and the dream was waylaid.

She says the 9,000 cases of women with labour-related injuries every year simply swamped her and pushed her dream to the side.

“Five per cent of all women in the world need some help to have a baby and it is these five per cent with no help in the countryside, that you get this fistula injuries, which cause untold sorrow,” she said.

“A long labour, a still-born baby and then a hole in the birth passage between the bladder and often between the rectum as well so that all their body waste is passing down through the birth passage and they are ashamed of this injury.

“They are outcasts from their society, often deserted by their husbands and their life is one of poverty and misery.”

In 1975 Dr Hamlin opened her first hospital devoted to fistula patients and another three have followed, but she says she constantly lamented the lack of a preventative focus.

“This has touched people’s hearts,” she said.

“It is a terrible thing to happen to a woman and I’ve been able to raise money with my staff and we have been so taken up with this work that we neglected to do anything about prevention.”

But a few years ago the idea of a midwifery school re-emerged.

“We wanted to take country girls, train 12th grade students from the countryside so that they would go back to the countryside,” she said.

“[They] could diagnose when a woman is likely to become obstructed in her labour and get her to a centre where she could have a safe delivery.”

A handful of students will begin studying at the school this year, but Dr Hamlin has big plans.

“We’ve only got 12 students this year but we are going to take more and we hope to be able to put, one day, a midwife in every village of Ethiopia,” she said.

Even after 49 years of tireless work for the women of Ethiopia Dr Hamlin, who was made a member of the Order of Australia in 1995, has no plans to ease her efforts in the east African country.

“No, I don’t feel my work is done,” she said.

“I feel I have got a lot of work to do to let the world know that this suffering is going on all over the developing world and Africa is full of women suffering, hiding away in little dark huts, ashamed of their injuries.”

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New test helps predict menopause

By Jane Cowan

There are already tests available to assess a woman's fertility, but they tend to measure only how fertile she is at the time of the test [File photo].

There are already tests available to assess a woman’s fertility, but they tend to measure only how fertile she is at the time of the test [File photo]. (Getty Images: Ian Waldie)

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With couples delaying having a family because of careers or other reasons, a Queensland statistician has come up with a mathematical model to predict when an individual woman will hit menopause.

Waiting to have children is a risky business, governed by how many eggs a woman has and when they happen to run out.

It is a game of numbers that Queensland University of Technology (QUT) mathematician Malcolm Faddy has turned his mind to.

“At the moment all we could say if a woman asked me when she was likely to experience menopause, all we could say in the absence of any other information, is that the median age which is 51 years,” he said.

But Professor Faddy has created a mathematical model that uses the levels of hormones in a woman’s blood to come up with a much more precise answer.

“I’ve used that data to develop a model which, on the basis of a woman’s age, current age, and the results of this, as say, lead to predictions of when she can expect to experience, if that is the right word, menopause,” he said.

There are already tests available to assess a woman’s fertility, but they tend to measure only how fertile she is at the time of the test, gauging whether her fertility has already started to decline.

Future gazing

This mathematical model aims to predict the future.

Dr Anne Clark, medical director of the fertility clinic Fertility First in Sydney, says there will be massive interest in the model.

“If this test is able to give a woman a more accurate prediction of when her fertility is likely to reduce in the future, then obviously, that would be a big advantage,” she said.

Dr Clark sees huge potential in this test for a generation of men and women who are tending to find partners in their early 30s instead of their 20s but still want children.

“Obviously it is fine to know that you are okay at the moment, but I mean you might not be okay in two years’ time.

“But if you had that information, you would potentially make different decisions.”

However, others have their doubts about the test.

False worry

Professor Michael Chapman, a fertility specialist at IVF Australia, says he knows of no biochemical test accurate enough to avoid producing – in some cases at least – false hope or false worry.

“I think that’s the risk and I would certainly like to see this test demonstrably proven,” he said.

“What they need to do is a prospective study which will take many years if they are really going to … end up being able to predict accurately a woman’s menopause.”

Professor Faddy hopes his model will eventually be able to predict menopause to within a couple of years.

But he admits a reliable test is a long way off.

A group of volunteer women in the Netherlands who have just had their hormones measured now need to be followed up in 10, 20 and 30 years’ time.

Certainly Professor Chapman does not suggest women start queuing at their GP’s door just yet.

“Basically we all know that fertility declines with age,” he said.

“The main message is women out there need, or couples actually, need to realise that the earlier that they try to have a baby, the more chance they have of getting that baby and putting the decision off based around some esoteric biochemical test, is a very dangerous move.”

Adapted from a story first aired on ABC Radio’s AM program on May 7, 2008.

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Casual work hurts breastfeeding mums: study

A new study has found that part-time and casual work by new mothers has almost the same negative impact on breastfeeding as full-time work.

The study has led to calls for access to paid maternity leave.

The survey of 3,000 women found that financial commitments are often behind the decision to return to part-time or casual work.

Lead researcher Amanda Cooklin, from the University of Melbourne, says mothers returning to work in the first six months after birth are less likely to be breastfeeding their babies at six months.

“We found that this was so whether women resumed full-time, part-time, or casual employment,” she said.

“So we think that a lack of paid maternity leave means that many women return to work earlier than they’d like and our study clearly demonstrates that this interferes with the proper establishment of breastfeeding.”

Ms Cooklin says paid maternity leave is needed to deal with a negative impact which work has on breastfeeding rates.

She also says paid maternity leave is not the only solution to the problem.

“It’s also equally important that employers support breastfeeding women, with options like more flexible schedules and paid breastfeeding breaks.”

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