Research that focuses on women’s health has been at the center of PCORI’s portfolio from the beginning. PCORI’s research is providing information that women need to make educated decisions about their health and health care. This research covers health concerns that are specific to women and health conditions that women experience differently from men. Our portfolio also has a concentration of projects that focus on caregivers, and because women tend to be their families’ primary decision makers about health, these projects have the potential to particularly affect women’s lives.
In observance of this year’s National Women’s Health Week, May 14–20, we invite you to explore a few of PCORI’s 39 studies, an investment of $132 million, focused on women’s health concerns.
Breast Cancer Studies
Breast cancer is, of course, a major concern for many women in the United States. Each year, about 230,000 Americans are diagnosed with breast cancer. PCORI funds research that covers the care continuum from screening through treatment through survivorship.
PCORI has funded several studies on breast cancer screening to help women make better-informed decisions about the approach that is right for them. These projects are comparing different screening approaches to find out what works best for different individuals. One study compares the outcomes of women who have annual mammograms with outcomes of women who receive mammograms on a schedule determined by their personal risk. Another asks whether supplemental screening methods, such as magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, can provide useful guidance to women with dense breasts.
Once cancer is diagnosed, women and their doctors need to determine how best to manage it. PCORI-funded studies in this area include two projects, an observational study and a clinical trial, that test alternatives to aggressive treatment for low-risk ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), in which abnormal cells in the milk ducts have not spread and may never become invasive cancer. Another study of women with DCIS compares outcomes among women who undergo surgery to remove the breast harboring the abnormal cells and those who do not. The study’s goal is to provide reliable information on the tradeoffs of the surgery.
More than 3 million US women are currently breast cancer survivors. When their treatment is completed, women enter surveillance, during which doctors check regularly for signs of cancer. Because not all tumors show up on mammograms, doctors have started turning to MRI. A PCORI-funded study is determining whether MRI adds value to mammography for detecting recurrences.
Some of the networks of PCORnet, PCORI’s initiative to harness the power of data and unique partnerships, focus on breast cancer. These include the American BRCA Outcomes and Utilization of Testing Patient-Powered Research Network (ABOUT Network) and the Greater Plains Collaborative.
Many diseases of the autoimmune system are more common in women than in men. One example is lupus, which can damage the joints, skin, kidneys, and other parts of the body. When the immune system attacks the kidneys, the disease is called lupus nephritis, and it can lead to end-stage kidney disease. A PCORI-funded study is developing and testing a computer tool, called a decision aid, to help African-American and Hispanic/Latina women with lupus nephritis make informed treatment decisions.
PCORI also funds studies that focus on autoimmune diseases that disproportionately affect women. For example, one study tested whether a tablet computer-based questionnaire about health could make rheumatoid arthritis treatment more attuned to patient needs. The study’s results indicated that this electronic questionnaire accurately reflects patients’ experiences and reveals more impairment than do standard measures.
When it comes to mental health, women are more likely than men to be diagnosed with depression. Many women, particularly women with low economic resources, never seek treatment or lack access to it. One PCORI study tests what happens when low-income women with depression are connected to health navigators, trained lay people who help them develop a personalized care plan based on their own concerns.
Another PCORI-funded study combines cancer screening with depression care among women in Bronx County, New York, the poorest urban county in the country. The study aims to determine whether the joint intervention increases rates of screening for breast, cervical, and colorectal cancer.
Celebrating Women, Funding Research, Improving Health
Women often play a leading role in guiding the health care of their families. Some PCORI research projects address the unique needs of those who care for children or adults. A study of children who have been hospitalized for serious infections found that, after leaving the hospital, children do as well with oral antibiotics, which are easier for parents to administer, as with intravenous antibiotics. A PCORnet network, the National Alzheimer's & Dementia Patient & Caregiver-Powered Research Network has put caregivers, along with patients, at its center.
PCORI is pleased to join others around the country in celebrating National Women’s Health Week. We’re committed to supporting patient-centered comparative clinical effectiveness research that will produce the reliable evidence that women need to make better-informed decisions about the health and healthcare issues that affect them and their families.
Of course, that same commitment drives our work regardless of the patient population. You may explore all our funded studies in our Research & Results section.