My background in women’s rights has driven me to look into how my current field of work has taken issues which affect women into account. So as an EDMA Communications Intern, I decided to dive into the field of in vitro diagnostics (IVDs) to identify whether the makers of IVDs have played a role in empowering women. Here’s what my investigation revealed:
- BRCA testing: Up to 10% of all breast cancer cases – the most common cancer amongst women – result from harmful mutations in inherited genes. Women carrying these genes – the most important being BRCA 1 & 2 – have a substantially elevated risk of developing breast, and also ovarian, cancer. Women with a family history of breast cancer can benefit from IVD technology in the form of genetic tests. Genetic tests can identify if a woman is a carrier of the harmful genes and allow her to take action to protect her health through increased monitoring and check-ups or preventative treatments. The use of genetic testing for this purpose recently came to prominence when it emerged that the actress Angelina Jolie chose to undergo a double mastectomy after tests showed her to be carrier of harmful genes and had an 87% risk of developing breast cancer. Angelina Jolie’s case is an example of how IVDs can provide women with vital information which allows them to take control and make decisions to protect their health.
- Cervical Cancer Screening: Cervical cancer is a largely treatable cancer and mortality can usually be avoided if the disease is detected early. Cervical cancer screening – whereby samples extracted using Pap smears are examined in laboratories using in vitro diagnostics – is another example of how IVD results are informing women about their health. Abnormalities such as cancer lesions and precancerous cells can be identified by the laboratory analysis, following which women can take steps to protect their health through increased monitoring or preventative action.
- Pregnancy testing: Urine-based pregnancy testing began in Ancient Egyptian times when women would urinate on a mixture of wheat and barley over a number of days. The need to identify pregnancy in the privacy of one’s home has evolved to take many forms throughout the years, until 1977 when innovation in IVD technology resulted in the over-the-counter, home pregnancy test. The home pregnancy test allows women to accurately test for pregnancy in the privacy of the home without a healthcare worker.
I am happy to report that a whole range of IVDs cater towards the specific needs of women. Innovations in IVD technology are helping women to tackle the sex specific diseases and health concerns which affect them. Information IS power and when it comes to matters of health, innovations in the field of in vitro diagnostics are empowering women to take control of their health.
– Noreen Aldworth, EDMA, Communications Intern