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Top Medical Advances For Women In 2007

From the first-ever birth control pill that effectively eliminates menstruation, to a vaccine for cervical cancer that has other important benefits, Dr. Holly Phillips visited The Saturday Early with her list of the year's most important advances in women's health care.

Dr. Phillips was asked to concentrate on findings and treatments that really matter to women on a day-to-day basis.

  • At the top of her list for 2007 is a birth-control pill that cancels your menstrual period.

    "It's called Lybrel," Phillips explains. "It's an example of what's old becoming new again. When the birth control pill first hit the market in the 50's, it was formulated so women would never have a period. At the time women weren't comfortable with that, but it seems that increasingly many women are more than happy to say goodbye to that time of the month. And as a birth control method, it's safe and effective."

    Asked if altering that natural cycle could be dangerous to a woman's health, Phillips says, "Of course that's a legitimate question, and as with most things we have to wait for long-term tests to confirm it. But right now it seems perfectly safe, and we already know that birth control pills lower the risk of a couple of cancers -- ovarian and uterine.

  • Second on Phillips' list is the finding that even a little bit of exercise can have a big impact on women's long-term health and help them live longer.

    "I think a big mistake many of us make when it comes to working out is that we 'set the bar too high.' You don't have to be in the gym for hours a day to get some benefit. There was a study out this year in the Journal of the American Medical Association that showed just 10 minutes of daily exercise is enough to make a difference. It improves fitness and longevity. Of course, it's still true that more is better," Phillips explains.

  • Third on her list are the new findings about the effectiveness of a vaccine for cervical cancer.

    "The Gardisil vaccine was truly a breakthrough to protect women from a cancer that claims thousands of lives a year. But the debate right now is about whether to vaccinate boys, as well," Phillips says. "To truly eradicate the virus -- which also causes genital warts and other cancers -- both men and women would need to be vaccinated."

  • Her number four pick is the finding that a low-fat diet can help against a recurrence of breast cancer.

    "A huge study on early-stage breast-cancer survivors found that a low-fat diet helped prevent recurrence of cancer. In the study, 'low-fat' meant less than 15-percent of your calories from fat. Of course, a low-fat diet rich in fruits and vegetables is good for everyone's health," Phillips explains.

  • Fifth on the list is no more insulin shots for diabetics.

    "Insulin-dependent diabetics have always been burdened with needles and injections, which are particularly hard on children and older people. And of course no one likes the idea having to take shots every day. So now we have insulin patches and nose sprays, and there are plans for a gel that you'd just rub into your skin," Phillips says.

  • Finally, fat-blockers that actually work made her list.

    "We all know about the obesity epidemic, and the medical community is pulling out all stops to combat it," Phillips says. "This year there were some advances in treatments that actually prevent fat growth in mice. And researchers are working on ways to shrink fatty tissue by controlling the blood flow to the cells. It's years away from actually being used, but promising research nonetheless."

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