Clinical Laboratory Testing Crucial for Women Across Many Life Stages
May is Women’s Health Month – a perfect opportunity to focus on the value clinical laboratories bring to supporting women and their clinicians in evaluating and optimizing their overall health, including testing for diseases and conditions that either disproportionately or solely affect women, which include:
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, accounting for about 1 in every 5 female deaths. Routine blood tests performed by clinical laboratories measure cholesterol (both HDL, “good” and LDL “bad” cholesterol), triglycerides, and C-reactive protein (CRP), which can be indicators of coronary artery disease. An A1C test blood test measures average blood sugar levels over 3-month periods and is commonly used to diagnose prediabetes and diabetes, which are closely associated with heart disease. Test results can help women and their clinicians make decisions about how best to optimize their health, including through diet, medication, and physical activity. Of course, it is important for women to recognize the signs and symptoms of heart attack, which may not look the same in women as in men. When experiencing a heart attack, chest pain is a warning, but it does not occur in everyone. Women are more likely than men to experience nausea, light-headedness, or unusual fatigue.  As about 1 in 5 heart attacks are silent, knowing the signs and symptoms is critical to getting timely care.
Innovation in clinical laboratory testing has dramatically improved cancer detection in women, allowing for earlier interventions and tailoring of new therapies that can extend life. For example, genetic testing for higher-risk patients can reveal early warnings of gene mutations that could increase the risk of breast cancer, cervical cancer, and others, with early detection improving survival rates. Biomarker testing looks for genes, proteins, and other substances that can identify the characteristics of cancer, allowing a doctor to customize the course of treatment. Pap and HPV tests screen for cervical cancer. Along with HPV vaccination and treatments, screening through laboratory testing has helped reduce incidence and deaths from cervical cancer, once one of the most common causes of cancer death in women, by 50 percent since the 1970s.
Thyroid disease is up to eight times more likely in women, and of the overall estimated 20 million people in the U.S. who have thyroid disease, about 60 percent of those affected do not know it, making laboratory screening for the disease critically important. Clinical laboratories perform a routine blood test that measures levels of key hormones, including thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) and thyroxine (T4). Test results may prompt further investigation or medication to manage thyroid disease, which, if undiagnosed, raises the risk for osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, and infertility.
Clinical laboratory tests can help inform important stages of women’s reproductive lives, from fertility treatment and prenatal care throughout pregnancy and childbirth. At the outset of fertility testing, anti-müllerian hormone (AMH) tests estimate the number of follicles in the ovaries, helping assess reproductive health. Other tests, including follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), estradiol, prolactin and hyperprolactinemia, determine levels of hormones that support development of the eggs, embryo, and the production of breast milk. Blood typing checks for Rh factor status and the potential need for treatment to address anemia in a fetus and newborn or jaundice in a newborn. Non-invasive prenatal screening can indicate the possibility of fetal abnormalities and assess whether additional definitive diagnostic testing is needed.
Throughout a woman’s life, clinical laboratory tests provide important and actionable insights that can improve and save lives. This Women’s Health Month, ACLA encourages women to prioritize their health and self-care, and in consultation with your clinician, follow recommended testing guidelines.
For more information about women’s health, visit https://www.cdc.gov/women/index.htm.
 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. Underlying Cause of Death 1999-2019 on CDC Wonder Online Database, released in 2020. Data are from Multiple Cause of Death Files, 1999-2019, as compiled from data provided by the 57 vital statistics jurisdictions through the Vital Statistics Cooperative Program. Accessed Jan 7, 2021.
 National Cancer Institute, https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/types/biomarker-testing-cancer-treatment
 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/cervical-cancer/statistics#:~:text=It%20is%20estimated%20that%204%2C310,earlier%20detection%20of%20cervical%20cancer
 Kaiser Permanente Centers for Reproductive Health, https://www.kpivf.com/fertility-101/female-fertility/
 The American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists, https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/the-rh-factor-how-it-can-affect-your-pregnancy