November 28, 2023

Diagnostic Screenings May Help Reveal the Power of Preventative Health 

“It’s never too late to work to prevent disease and speak with a provider about your risk factors.”  

“Your life choices matter today for your health going forward. Everything that you’re doing today matters.” 

“The single best kind of cancer out there is the one that you never get.”  


The importance of preventative health care for women was reiterated time and time again throughout the Society for Women’s Health Research’s (SWHR) Value of Diagnostics within Women’s Health virtual public forum series this year. SWHR’s Women’s Health Diagnostics program brings attention to the latest innovations in diagnostics and screenings, which can reveal salient health information and help women make informed decisions about their health care.  

Early screening is particularly important for lung cancer, as early diagnosis plays a major role in patient outcomes. As the lung cancer rate rises in young women, panelists during the “Clearing the Air” webinar agreed that knowing your risk and getting screened early for lung cancer if you are at high risk is essential. Over six million women are currently eligible for lung cancer screening and have not been screened, said Erika Sward, National Assistant Vice President of Advocacy at the American Lung Association. Moreover, less than 10% of people eligible to get a CT screen for lung cancer do so, added Raphael Bueno, MD, Chief of the Division of Thoracic Surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Dr. Bueno emphasized that “if we double or triple that number, we’ll save so many more lives.” The American Lung Association is one of the groups working to change these statistics. The Lung Association’s Saved By The Scan campaign promotes the need for lung cancer screenings and addresses the stigma associated with lung cancer. “No one deserves lung cancer, even if you were or are a smoker,” said Sward. The panelists noted that whether you have a history of smoking, have lived with someone who smokes, or even have no history of smoking, you should understand your personal lung cancer risks. Download the Value of Diagnostics within Women’s Health: Lung Cancer fact sheet for more information about you’re the screening options that are available.  

Diagnostics and screenings can also reveal opportunities for further research, as highlighted during the “Putting Our Heads Together” webinar on Alzheimer’s disease diagnostics. “There is a very strong genetic component to sex differences in Alzheimer’s disease,” said Rachel Buckley, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, representing the vast research opportunity in this space. Potential research questions may relate to the overlap between Alzheimer’s disease, sex and gender, and metabolic syndromes, sleep or mood patterns, cardiovascular risk, hormone therapy usage, immune system activity, and neuroinflammation. While the innovations in Alzheimer’s disease diagnostics continue, there are some screening tests available today. Check out the Value of Diagnostics within Women’s Health: Alzheimer’s Disease fact sheet to explore these screening options. Beyond testing, there are many steps women can incorporate in their everyday routines to support brain health. Heather M. Snyder, PhD, Vice President of Medical & Scientific Relations at the Alzheimer’s Association recommends continuing to engage your body and brain, referencing some of the healthy tips on the Alzheimer’s Association website. “Do more today than you did yesterday,” and that can make the biggest difference, Snyder said.  

During the “Taking it to Heart” webinar, speakers emphasized that effective preventive cardiovascular health care must be supported by both the patient and the provider. Women cannot act alone in their health care journeys. Nearly 45% of women ages 20 and older are living with some form of cardiovascular disease, and yet, while cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for women, only 44% of women recognize it as their greatest health threat, noted Jennifer L. Hall, PhD, Chief of Data Science at the American Heart Association. Read the Value of Diagnostics within Women’s Health: Cardiovascular Disease fact sheet to learn more about heart disease risk factors and the most common heart disease symptoms. Additionally, supporting heart health across the lifespan requires each stakeholder in health care to play a role because, as was noted during the webinar, all health is heart health. “We need the health care system to become more enlightened, so that all health care providers, no matter where they are, can help spread the word around risks factors for women and heart disease,” said Nieca Goldberg, MD, Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine at NYU Grossman School of Medicine and Medical Director at Atria Institute NYC. An important piece of this, said Dr. Goldberg, is making sure health care providers are aware which diagnostics screening tools are available based on the individual patient’s risk factors and symptoms. Equipping providers across the care continuum with this information could go a long way in improving outcomes, she added.

A common theme in these events was that screening and diagnostic tests are a valuable way to understand a person’s disease risks. When paired with a preventative care routine of regular appointments, healthy habits, and open health conversations, diagnostics are among the most powerful tools available to improving health outcomes for women across the lifespan.  

Dr. Buckley perhaps puts it best: “There is no better time than now to start supporting your health.”