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Research into women’s health: a priority in South West Sydney

The challenge of research is making sure it is impactful, can be translated into the community, and that also hasn’t been done before.

The researchers at Western Sydney University have certainly risen to that challenge. For women of South West Sydney, that means better programs and improved health outcomes.

 

Obesity and breast cancer screening: new research to shed light on real reason for low rates of screening

Dr Kate McBride

Dr Kate McBride, Senior Lecturer in Population Health, has spent the last few years researching the breast cancer screening experiences of women with obesity in Western Sydney. The findings indicate that women with obesity are reluctant to have second and subsequent screenings due to negative experiences encountered during their first mammogram.

“Because obesity is the number one risk factor for post-menopausal breast cancer, the self-reported low re-screening rate is quite concerning,” she explains.

However, whether the low rate is directly attributable to obesity is a question that Dr McBride has pondered and so has embarked on a research project that, she explains, “has never been done before.”

McBride will be looking at 20 years-worth of screening data from Breastscreen NSW and linking it to data on body mass from the Australian Longitudinal study of women’s health.

“I’m looking at the BMI data from that longitudinal study, as well as other information such as whether people are partnered or have children because that can affect whether women screen or not as well, and then will link it to BreastScreen NSW data to see if  women’s BMI really does affect their breast screening attendance over time,”  she explains.

“If the data does prove that obesity impacts breast screening, we will be looking at securing funding to encourage women with obesity to screen as well as create a program for health care professionals, specifically radiographers, to understand the sensitivities around screening obese women.”

It is anticipated that the outcome of this research will be higher, sustained breast screening rates for women with obesity and improved screening service delivery.

Describing why the focus is on obesity rather than cancer itself, Dr McBride explains that the university’s population health research focus is about making sure that they are across factors that impact people’s health such as obesity, age, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds.

“We really try to think about all the determinants of health that are impacting people’s health outcomes rather than focus on a specific disease or condition,” she says.

 

Tackling endometriosis in multiple ways

Dr Mike Armour

Dr Mike Armour, Senior Research Fellow in Women’s Health at NICM Health Research Institute, and his team from WSU, are working on multiple research projects looking at endometriosis, a painful condition that affects over 700,000 women Australia-wide.

“The driving force behind all of our clinical trials is to explore if there are other effective, affordable treatment options for women with endometriosis who may not find their current treatments acceptable for whatever reason, whether inadequate pain control, unpleasant side effects or cost.”

One of these is a clinical trial using modifications of a traditional Chinese herbal formulation known as Gui Zhi Fu Ling Wan (marketed in Australia as Gynoclear™ by Metagenics) to treat endometriosis.

“We are looking to determine if this formula is an effective and acceptable treatment for endometriosis related pain including pelvic pain & period pain (dysmenorrhea) as well as fatigue and quality of life,” explains Dr Armour.

This placebo-controlled double-blind trial is currently recruiting and researchers are inviting women with confirmed endometriosis to participate. Go to https://nicm.edu.au/research/clinical_trials/endometriosis_study for more information.

Dr Armour is also working on studies examining the use of medicinal cannabis for endometriosis, the first of which has been funded and expected to begin in late 2020. Research has shown that around 1 in 10 women with endometriosis in Australia are already using cannabis, mostly from illicit sources, to manage their endometriosis symptoms.

“These women report significant improvements in their pain as well as reductions in endometriosis related medication usage. Given the current struggles many women have in achieving adequate pain relief exploring other avenues of potentially effective pain relief is critical. The first study, expected to begin this year, will look at using various dosage forms of cannabis for women with endometriosis. We aim to explore if medicinal cannabis is a cost-effective treatment, and if the government should explore potential funding models to allow more affordable access for women with endometriosis,” explains Dr Armour.

Dr Armour and his team are also proud to be part of implementing the National Action Plan for endometriosis. As part of this plan WSU academics are working, together with a number of universities, organisations and academics, on The National Endometriosis Clinical and Scientific Trials (NECST) Network , which involves collecting data about women with endometriosis over many years.

Dr Armour explains the reason behind this innovative initiative: “Often when doctors talk about conditions like diabetes or heart disease you hear about the progression of the disease and long-term effects. At the moment, we don’t have that type of information for endometriosis and we’ve never collected that information before. So, it’s going to be a game changer in the next five years.

“With the data we collect, we will be able to say what will happen if we don’t help young women when they’re teenagers. That is, what will happen if we continue to ignore their pain or dismiss it? We’ll be able to say what will happen to these women as they get older, for instance, will the endometriosis resolve itself or will they need a lot of intervention as they get older?”

 

Western Sydney University is tackling women’s health challenges head-on with relevant, impactful research that will ultimately benefit, not just the women of South West Sydney but also, the nation.

By Linda Music