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Over the past decade, computers have become smaller, faster, cheaper, and able to store exponentially more data. Additionally, the ability to share large caches of information quickly has opened the way for scientists to collaborate and better understand human health. Scientists and medical innovators have used this evolving field of technology to create devices and procedures that are revolutionizing the healthcare landscape.
Because women's healthcare presents unique challenges and considerations, doctors and scientists have begun recognizing the need for new, targeted solutions to fertility, birth control, and diseases and procedures common in female populations.
The following are new devices and techniques that are poised to transform women's healthcare in the future.
Breast cancer diagnosis and mastectomy recovery
According to Breastcancer.org, "About 1 in 8 U.S. women (about 12%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime."
With how pervasive and devastating the disease is, it's no wonder that doctors and researchers are racing to find ways to identify and treat the disease early in its development and create treatments that will help women when in recovery.
Today, genetic tests that analyze the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes have become cheaper and more widely available. In the future, research into the human genome and the specific affects that genes have on diseases will only become more common.
Additionally, women who have double mastectomies following a diagnosis of breast cancer or a positive genetic identification of genes that are almost certain to cause cancer, increasingly have less painful and more effective options for breast reconstruction. A new device helps women expand their chest tissue with carbon dioxide, instead of the traditional needle injections of saline into the site. The device can be used at home, giving patients better privacy and control over their treatment.
Home Pap smear tests
One challenge for healthcare professionals working in women's health is encouraging women to get regular preventative checks and procedures that can be embarrassing or taboo.
Luckily, technology is giving women better access to critical preventative care like Pap smears right at home. This is likely to increase the number of women total who take their health into their own hands and catch issues before they become serious.
One Canadian company, Eve Medical, has created a home Pap smear test that swabs the cervix for irregular cells (a sign of HPV) and can test for a variety of other diseases. The woman can do the test herself, from the comfort of her home, and then send in the test to a lab.
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Less invasive, fast blood tests for endometriosis
New technologies are making endoscopic and robotic techniques more common, which can make women's surgeries and diagnoses less painful and time-consuming. Some technologies help doctors bypass surgery and figure out what's wrong with blood or other tests.
In years past, the prevalent disease endrometriosis (a condition that causes uterine tissue to grow outside the uterus) could only be diagnosed by a patient going into surgery. Now, this disease that affects a reported one in ten women can be identified with a quick blood test.
Hysterectomies, or the surgical removal of the uterus, are the second-most common surgical procedure for women who are of reproductive age. According to the Center for Disease Control, hysterectomies are almost always a response to a crisis health situation, including invasive cancer or serious complications during childbirth (like a rupture of the uterus).
Surgeries used to depend on a surgeon making large incisions, which exposed the surgery patient to more risks of infection and provided them with more cuts that would need to heal post-operation. Now, laparoscopic instruments (lighted cameras) allow surgeons to make minor incisions and do the same surgical procedures. Laproscopic hysterectomies are shortening recovery times and helping women who undergo surgeries have recoveries with lesser risk of infection.
Additionally, robotic-assisted hysterectomies allow surgeons to work with precise, sophisticated computers to work in the small spaces required for this procedure. Doctors like the team of surgeons and staff at Salt Lake Regional Medical Center have trained to provide these enhanced techniques to the women who need them.
Using advanced technologies to make these complex surgeries less painful, shorter, and require a shorter recovery time is a major goal for many women's health professionals and surgeons. With all these innovative solutions, the future looks ever brighter for women's disease prevention and treatment.