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How The WTA Is Encouraging Women To Advocate For Preventive

On Thursday, August 25th, the WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) and its lead global sponsor and official health partner, Hologic, united some of the world’s most renowned female athletes and healthcare experts at Her Health Advantage to discuss preventive care for women. The goal was to encourage all to take actionable steps toward prioritizing our physical and emotional health.

At the event, Hologic Global Women’s Health Index presented data that represents the views of 94% of the world’s women and girls age 15 or older. They shared that more than 1.5 billion women interviewed for the Index in 2021 said they were not tested for cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, or sexually transmitted infections in the past year.

“Combined, these four conditions kill or harm billions of people around the globe each year,” Dr. Susan Harvey, VP of Worldwide Medical Affairs, Hologic Inc, said. “The significant lack of preventive care is distressing because as a breast health expert for decades, I have seen firsthand the life-saving and life-changing impact of early detection and treatment.”

However, as tennis legend Martina Navratilova, there are often many roadblocks to being proactive around one’s health, including finding the time and money.

“So much of it is people get too busy or they do not have the funds as it costs money to get screened,” Navratilova said. “It’s tricky. For most women, it’s either money, time, or both.”

Other issues include the recent pandemic, gender disparity in healthcare, and lack of awareness regarding what screenings are necessary to protect one’s health.

Talking Roadblocks With Navratilova

In January 2022, Navratilova shared her diagnosis with a non-invasive form of breast cancer called ductal carcinoma in situ, or DCIS, which in her case, was confined to the milk ducts and had not spread to the breast tissue.

“I cried for about 30 seconds and then got into the solution right away,” she said. “I had a ‘good cancer’ if such a thing exists. Talk about an oxymoron.”

Navratilova received her cancer diagnosis during a routine mammogram after not having one for four years. Overall, cancer screenings have gone down during the pandemic. A US survey study published in JAMA Network Open reveals that breast and cervical cancer screenings fell 6% and 11% in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition, an estimated 9.4 million screening tests that would have normally occurred in the United States in 2020 didn’t happen. These missed screenings, many experts worry, could potentially lead to cancers being diagnosed at a more advanced stage.

In speaking with Navratilova after the panel event, we discussed these issues and how one study published in Academic Emergency Medicine found that women who went to the emergency room (ER) with severe stomach pain had to wait almost 33% longer than men with the same symptoms.

In addition, a 2000 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that women are seven times more likely than men to be misdiagnosed and discharged in the middle of having a heart attack.

Most recently, a California woman made the news when she was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer eight months after being twice denied a mammogram due to her young age and family history.

So what do you do when insurance, doctors, or certain protocols are the factors standing in your way from getting the care you feel you need?

Navratilova responded that she’d encourage women to advocate for themselves, saying, “Trust yourself and get a second or third opinion if you have to. Keep looking, change doctors, change insurance or pay for it yourself if you have to – find a way. I mean, if you don’t stand up for yourself, who will?”

“I think she (the woman from California) did all the right things,” Dr. Jennifer Maynard, a WTA Medical Advisor and Mayo Clinic physician weighed in. “Under 30, we do start with an ultrasound. It’s correct to me as she feel into a lower risk category, but the fact that the patient was concerned, as a doctor, I would have still ordered the mammogram. It depends on where you are in the country or the world and whether you have insurance or not. It’s tough.”

Making Yourself And Your Health A Priority

A study by Redbook and HealthyWomen (a non-profit dedicated to providing women with health information) found that 45% of women over 30 do not make time for their health, partly because they’re too busy managing everyone else’s.

“Even female athletes performing at the highest level of their sport are not immune to the health challenges that affect other women,” said Dr. Maynard. “I hope the more we talk about these topics; we remove stigmas. Women need to make their health and themselves a priority.”

There’s another aspect standing in the way of some women – fear. A survey conducted in 2003 by Mattson and Maria Braun, an associate professor of communication studies at West Virginia University, showed that a high percentage of women between the ages of 18 and 71 have fears about the care they receive most specifically from their gynecologists.

Maynard feels that the fear is related to the previously mentioned Redbook and HealthyWomen study – that if something is “wrong,” they may not be able to care for their family or children. She suggests turning that logic around and being proactive about getting preventative care. That way, you can potentially address an illness ahead of time and be available to care for others, your career, and yourself.

As for any fear, Navratilova makes clear she has no patience for it.

“If you find something, wouldn’t you want to find something sooner rather than later?” she asked. “Not knowing drives me crazy. Women have to stand up and be counted. We’re not taught to do so, but we should know better!”

Women can learn more about their well-woman’s appointments and get screened for various cancers by visiting here.