Years in which dogmatic revisionists take control of public policy are usually not good years for women’s health. But there was some good news for women in 2006.

The Society for Women’s Health Research has announced the top five women’s health stories of 2006. They are:

1. Despite objections of some fundamentalist congressmen, who said it would encourage sexual promiscuity, the FDA Approved a vaccine to prevent cervical cancer. The FDA approved in June a vaccine against human papillomavirus (HPV), a common sexually transmitted virus that causes most cases of cervical cancer. This is the first cancer vaccine ever approved, and it protects against the strands of HPV that cause 70% of cervical cancer cases. An estimated 10,000 women in the United States develop cervical cancer each year and nearly 4,000 die from it annually. The vaccine has the potential to reduce those numbers dramatically. It will make an even larger impact in developing countries, where cervical cancer is the second largest cancer killer of women. Additional cervical cancer vaccines are in development.

2. After delays of almost three years, the FDA decided to give women 18 and older access to Plan B emergency contraception without a prescription. If taken within 72 hours of intercourse, Plan B can prevent pregnancy. Some political interest groups also opposed this, again arguing it promotes sexual promiscuity. Since these groups are so strongly against abortion and since this will prevent many abortions, the reason for this opposition is hard to comprehend. An FDA advisory committee voted overwhelmingly in 2005 to support Plan B over-the-counter access to Plan B without an age restriction, and that may happen some time in the future.

3. There was mounting evidence about the dangers of smoking, especially in women, as well as increasing evidence of the danger of second-hand smoke to women, pregnant women (and their fetuses), and babies.

4. Knee replacements became sex-specific. As part of the growing trend toward medical treatments and devices tailored to an individual patient?s needs, 2006 saw the introduction of a knee replacement designed for women. Previously, women facing knee replacement surgery were limited to devices designed for men. A new device is now available to better replicate the way a woman?s knee bones are shaped and the way her joints move, both of which are different from men.

5. Research has shed more light on health disparities between the sexes in general. Medical research used to be done mostly on men, but researchers have discovered that the results don’t always fit the way women?s bodies work.

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