Chief Medical Officer
Andrea Lukes, MD, MHSc, FACOG
As Health Decisions celebrates National Women’s Health Week (NWHW), we decided to sit down with our Chief Medical Officer, Andrea S. Lukes, MD, MHSc, FACOG, a practicing OB/GYN and active Principal Investigator as well as a CMO, to ask her thoughts on NWHW, key health issues for women at different life stages and women’s participation in clinical trials.
Why is National Women’s Health Week important to you?
Dr. Lukes: As a healthcare provider to women, I see these issues on a day-to-day basis, but having a week to promote women’s’ health through a national campaign is great. NWHW provides several helpful tools, including the “What’s your health score” quiz, which can remind women of several ways to improve their health. The NWHW website highlights health and wellness, diseases and conditions that impact women and women’s unmet medical needs.
NWHW highlights the role that women often play as caregivers. How can being a caregiver affect a woman’s health?
Dr. Lukes: Certainly women can experience benefits from being a caregiver, but often there is associated stress. Women may stop taking care of themselves while they are busy caring for others. For example, they may exercise less, sleep less and make poor dietary decisions. This can lead to depression, obesity, insomnia, and other problems. I really encourage women to find a satisfying work-life balance and focus on taking care of themselves so they can improve their well-being.
What are the differences in how you counsel women at different life stages?
Dr. Lukes: You counsel each woman based on her specific needs. Speaking generally, in the reproductive years, a woman should consider either taking a prenatal vitamin and preparing for children or choosing safe and effective birth control. There are many choices, and as an OB/GYN, I go through the risks and benefits of all options and work with each woman to find the best choice for her. When women reach perimenopause, there can be new and bothersome symptoms, such as hot flashes and changes in menstrual bleeding. I think it is important for women to be educated about what to expect during this time. Knowing what to expect can help a woman figure out how to manage the symptoms. During postmenopause, women have new and different concerns. Some may experience vaginal dryness, osteoporosis or breast cancer. So, my focus as a provider may include prescriptions or procedures to address those concerns, such as a bone density evaluation or a mammogram. While health concerns vary with age and we adjust guidelines accordingly, we can never forget that every woman is different and has different life experiences and healthcare needs.
How can women make a difference in their unmet medical needs as highlighted by NWHW?
Dr. Lukes: I agree with the thoughts that Marsha Henderson, the FDA Assistant Commissioner for Women’s Health, expressed in her message, Participate in a Clinical Trial: Make a Difference. Participating in a clinical trial can be a positive experience for an individual, but can also advance our knowledge about different health conditions and increase the range of treatment options. As Henderson states, it is important for clinical trials to involve women of different races, ages, and ethnicities.
A woman may learn something through participating in a clinical trial that can subsequently have long-lasting positive effects on her health. Also, many women are motivated to participate in a trial because they understand that it may ultimately benefit other women, including their daughters and their friends. This week I enjoyed speaking with a patient who participated in a clinical trial at my clinic and hearing that she has no regrets about participation. She was very happy when the investigative product was approved and available to other women. She mentioned that she was grateful that she could bring her young daughter on office visits during the trial. That reminded me how much I enjoyed it when her daughter tried to be helpful during those visits. That trial was a good experience for all of us and it contributed to the approval of a very effective product that has helped a lot of women with heavy menstrual bleeding.
Investigative products are not always as effective as we hope but often they are. Clinical trials are the best way to find out. We all owe a debt of gratitude to the women who participate. We also owe it to them to get patient input when we develop the protocol for a clinical trial so that we fully understand the trial from the patient’s perspective before we ask women to enroll.