Take Part
Improving Women's Health
Heads Up: 8 Tests Every Female Needs
Top Health Breakthroughs for Women in the Last 50 Years
Why It Matters
Expert Q&A
Christopher Elam, TakePart.com

What You May Not Know About Breast Cancer
One of the nation’s most respected breast cancer experts, Dr. Marisa Weiss has used her 20-plus years of experience to establish breastcancer.org the premiere online resource for breast health and breast cancer. A breast cancer survivor herself, Dr. Weiss updates women on what they need to know to live breast-healthy lives.
When should women begin to think about breast health?

It’s never too early—breast cancer risk starts at conception. From the first trimester in utero through the 10 years of adolescence, girls are building the foundation for their future breast health. When glands are under construction, what you eat, drink, breathe, and use become the building blocks.

Self-exams and mammograms are key. Women over 40 should get annual mammograms. But women with higher risks may want to start earlier or be more aggressive.

What are the most common risk factors?
Some we can’t control: age, genetics, family history, race, breast density, menstruation onset age, and exposure to radiation on chest or face before age 30. Other factors we can control: smoking, lack of exercise and being overweight, alcohol abuse, pregnancy and breastfeeding history, and choosing hormone-replacement therapy during menopause. (Here’s a comprehensive overview.)
Are there environmental factors?
Pesticides, antibiotics, hormones used on crops and livestock, industrial chemicals in food and packaging…all these things pose an increased breast cancer risk. Not to mention the chemicals in cosmetics, lawn and garden products, plastics, sunscreen—even our water. These are things our mothers and grandmothers didn’t have to worry about!
Which products should women steer clear of?
When shopping for cosmetics, steer clear of products containing parabens and phthalates. And choose sunscreens that contain zinc or titanium—chemicals that are not hormone disruptors. If you have to use plastics, be selective. Recycling symbols of 2, 4, or 5 are generally okay; 7 is a no-no. And reduce your exposure to BPA by limiting the amount of canned food you eat. Find more tips in our Step-by-Step Guide —essential reading for every woman.
Which foods should women look out for?
It’s critical to eat healthfully—lots of fruits and veggies, for one. If possible, shop organic. If not, be aware of the foods that pose the greatest risk. The Environmental Working Group lists a Dirty Dozen and a Clean 15. There are many ways to “clean up” your diet and work organics in cheaply and easily.
Any surprising research breakthroughs?
We’ve recently found that women with low levels of Vitamin D have a higher risk for breast cancer, as do women exposed to prolonged light at night—factory workers, doctors, nurses, and police officers. We now know that exposure to DES, an estrogen used to prevent miscarriage, can increase a woman’s risk.
How can women get involved to help fight breast cancer?
Over the past two years, I’ve been working with Dr. Joan Ruderman of Harvard Medical School to identify the emerging environmental risk factors. Think Pink, Live Green is a new campaign—a movement, really—to help women learn more about these new factors. I invite women to join Think Pink, Live Green to become wiser consumers and live breast-healthy lifestyles. And spread the word by sharing our Step-by-Step Guide with five friends today!
© Roger Wright/Stone/Getty Images
© Peter Dazeley/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images
© Tal Silverman/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images
© Tanya Constantine/Blend Images/Getty Images
© Ted Morrison/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images
© Mark Weiss/Digital Vision/Getty Images
© Image Source/Image Source/Getty Images
© Sean Justice/Riser/Getty Images
© Purestock/Purestock/Getty Images
© The Gates Foundation
1/10Health Breakthroughs
Fertility Treatments
The first “test-tube baby” was successfully conceived by in vitro fertilization in England in 1977, followed by an American child the next year. Today, about 1% of all babies born in the U.S. are conceived via assisted reproductive technologies. [Gallery by Jessica Ashley]
2/10Health Breakthroughs
Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation wasn’t fully developed until 1960, according to the American Heart Association. With cardiovascular disease now claiming more women’s lives than all cancers combined, and rising incidence of cardiac failure, each advancement in heart health has an extensive impact.
3/10Health Breakthroughs
HPV Vaccine
Half of all sexually active Americans will contract HPV at some point, making young women particularly vulnerable to the types of disease that cause cervical, vaginal, vulvar, anal, and some oral cancers. The first vaccine was licensed in 2006.
4/10Health Breakthroughs
Dietary Supplements
Karlene Karst, RD, says access to nutrients from foods and herbs from around the world are changing women’s health. “Dietary supplements created from nutrients that have been studied and used globally are helping us prevent and treat chronic illnesses, and preserve and maintain good health,” she says.
5/10Health Breakthroughs
Oral Contraceptives
The first birth-control pill was approved by the FDA in the early 1960s, made available to married women soon after, and released to unwed couples in 1972. The synthetic hormone is credited with significantly shifting family planning and the social climate.
6/10Health Breakthroughs
HIV Protease Inhibitors
The early-’90s invention of this drug profoundly impacted women, because women are particularly “biologically vulnerable” to HIV. Today, 17 million women worldwide live with HIV, and newer drugs have greatly reducedmother-to-child transmission of the disease.
7/10Health Breakthroughs
Smoking Bans
While public smoking bans in 27 states stir political controversy, reducing second-hand exposure could save thousands of women’s lives. For 25 years, lung cancer has killed more women than breast cancer, reports the American Lung Association.
8/10Health Breakthroughs
Vitamin-Fortified Foods
Simply fortifying milk with vitamin D and cereals with folic acid has given women and children far more access to the nutrients needed for healthy development, making it one of the most important nutritional changes of the last century, says Mary Hartley, RD.
9/10Health Breakthroughs
Gaining precision and popularity since the 1960s, mammograms allow for early detection of breast cancer, which is when treatments are more likely to be successful. The degree to which mammograms have reduced breast cancer-related deaths is debated, but the American Cancer Society recommends that women over 40 get screened every year.
10/10Health Breakthroughs
Take Part
The Gates Foundation has launched a global online platform where they're asking people worldwide to share personal stories—in photos, texts, or tweets—about the impact of contraceptives on their lives. Please add your voice. For more information on the importance of making contraceptives available to women around the world without access to them, watch the Melinda Gates TEDx Talk.
Cause Celeb
Shocking Facts About Women and Heart Disease
Barbra Streisand


What's wrong with this?

What’s wrong is the outrageous gender inequality that women face in the treatment of heart disease.

I consider myself a well-informed person, but when I heard these facts, I was stunned. Very few people know this. And until recently, almost no one talked about or paid attention to an epidemic that women are dying from throughout the world.

Women have made enormous strides. We’ve had women explore the depths of outer space, a woman has run for President of the United States, and a woman has served as Speaker of the House. Yet a boys’ club still exists in the medical sciences. When I learned this, I knew I had to get involved and try to do something to change this picture.

I believe that those with a platform in the entertainment industry have the privilege of being able to speak out against inequality, discrimination and injustice. That’s why I have chosen to speak on this issue. The number of women dying from breast cancer has significantly declined over the years because of people speaking out, sharing their stories, and the enormous amount of money that has been raised for research and early-detection efforts. Last year an estimated 1.7 billion dollars was raised for breast cancer alone. Only about 9 million was raised for women’s heart disease. We desperately need the same kind of coordinated campaign.

And so, in 2008, I endowed a research and education program at Cedars-Sinai’s Women’s Heart Center, under the leadership of Dr. Noel Bairey Merz, a Harvard Medical School graduate who has published over 180 scientific publications and has received numerous awards recognizing her as one of the field’s leading experts on preventive cardiology, women’s heart disease and mental stress.

Throughout my life, gender inequality has always concerned me, whether it’s making a movie about it or becoming involved in women’s issues. And in this case, gender really DOES matter when it comes to medical science. How can you treat a woman for a life-threatening ailment based on research done on men? Especially when women’s hearts are physiologically different than men’s hearts. Women tend to have blockages not only in their main arteries, but also in the smaller arteries that supply blood to the heart—a condition called microvascular disease.

Because of this, heart disease presents very differently in women than in men. Seventy-one percent of women experience early warning signs of a heart attack with sudden onset of extreme weakness that feels like the flu—often with no chest pain at all. Unlike the “Hollywood heart attack” we are all accustomed to seeing in movies and television, where the man grips his chest and falls to the floor, most women who have a heart attack experience nausea and vomiting, sweating, and lightheadedness.

Nearly two-thirds of the deaths from heart attacks in women occur among those who have no history of chest pain. Most women do not know this and oftentimes, by the time they enter the emergency room,their hearts have suffered substantial damage. Even if they go to their doctor, who is well intentioned, they are often misdiagnosed. I have met patients who have consulted two or three cardiologists, and they are still misdiagnosed because many doctors are not given the proper training to know the warning signs in women.

Heart research done on women also helps men as well. Take stem cell research, for example. Recently, Dr. Merz and I were talking about the work of a colleague who is trying to grow the first human heart in a petri dish. She had a breakthrough in her study when she found out that using only female stem cells was the solution. She discovered that using male stem cells didn’t work—they got totally lost. And, as we know, men...even male stem cells…won’t ask for directions.

Joking aside, the heart is an amazing organ, and first and foremost we need to focus on prevention. Women’s lives are becoming increasingly demanding as they juggle the responsibilities of being wife, mother and helping to support thefamily. We need to take better care of ourselves. We need to slow down, reduce stress, eat better, make time to exercise.

Recently, I read an article authored by sociology professor Mitch Hall. I found his insights, which are reinforced by various academic sources, really fascinating.

He wrote, “As we develop in utero, the human heart is the first organ to begin forming. In traditional Chinese medicine, the inner spiritual core of the self is deemed to reside, not in the head, but in theheart.” He goes on to say, “The heart does not just pump—what it does is listen.” He suggests that the heart senses and integrates our thoughts, our emotions, and our will to carry out tasks. The heart actually is a sensitive integrator of all our experience.

“Ancient cultures saw the heart as the seat of the soul. A human being has dual hearts—the first a pulsating fist of muscle in the chest; the second, a precious cabal of communicating neurons that create feeling, longing, and love.”

The heart is a precious organ that needs to be protected. And we can no longer afford to naively assume that heart disease is only a man’s disease —because as I mentioned earlier, it’s an epidemic facing women.

My hope is that Dr. Merz and I will be sharing more information with you about this on TakePart.com and we’ll all become a part of a global community to change it..not someday, but NOW!

    Watch Dr. Noel Merz’s incredible TEDx Talk
    Did you know that the symptoms of a heart attack are different for women than they are for men? Educate yourself by watching Dr.Noel Merz, a pioneer in women’s heart health, as she shares life-saving insight.
    Dr. Noel Merz, Escardio.org/ http://bit.ly/IT95Pi
      Know what tests you need?
      Figuring out which medical tests are really necessary for women can be overwhelming. Share this story to help clear any confusion: http://bit.ly/JY2BAB
      Learn the facts
      Protect the women in your life by sharing our story, What You May Not Know About Breast Cancer: http://bit.ly/K7kHE9