Gynecology research neglects women after onset of menopause — Israeli study

Sociologist argues that while the transition is a major life event for half of the population, scholarship has overlooked it, causing women to miss out on medical progress

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

Illustrative image: a woman experiencing a hot flush from menopause (Highwaystarz-Photography via iStock by Getty Images)
Illustrative image: a woman experiencing a hot flush from menopause (Highwaystarz-Photography via iStock by Getty Images)

Gynecology research is overlooking women who are going through menopause or who have finished menopause, according to a new peer-reviewed Israeli study.

Less than four percent of global scientific research publications in obstetrics and gynecology are dedicated to menopause and post-menopause, according to Tel Aviv University sociologist Dr. Netta Avnoon.

This shows that the field “neglects” female health after childbearing years, said Avnoon, arguing that while menopause represents a major life event at some point for half of the world’s population, it is relegated to a footnote in research.

In her view, this means older women aren’t benefitting from medical progress as they should.

“It’s time for a change,” she told The Times of Israel. “Around a quarter of the world’s population now are women in or after menopause. It is a shame that gynecologists have so little research dedicated to this population.”

Avnoon’s study was published in the journal Nature Reviews Urology in September. It surveyed the journals that publish peer-reviewed research on obstetrics and gynecology and found that out of 83 titles, only three of them — 4% — address the health of women before and after childbearing age, including menopause.

Avnoon, a Tel Aviv University sociologist, thinks that the problem is wider than the neglect of menopause. Scholars are keen to research topics that relate to reproduction and childbirth at the cost of other women’s health matters, she said.

Some 49% of journals are dedicated solely to reproductive functions, pregnancy, fetuses and childbirth, while only 12% are dedicated to health issues in the female sexual organs that are not reproductive in nature.

Illustrative image: a pregnant woman undergoing an ultrasound examination. (Inside Creative House vis iStock by Getty Images)

Breasts are the focus of 6% of journals, and gynecological cancers account for 5%. A quarter of journals have a general obstetrics and gynecology theme.

“Women can have many medical issues completely unrelated to their reproductive function, such as nerve and muscular issues, problems related to their digestive system that is near their genitalia unlike in men, and many other pains, illnesses and discomforts,” Avnoon said.

Her hypothesis, which she is now investigating in further research, is that while society has advanced in its views of women, in obstetrics and gynecology there is still often an ingrained tendency to view women primarily as “receptacles for reproduction.”

She thinks that “the time has come for women-centered gynecology,” meaning an approach that takes a broader view of women’s health, especially in terms of women’s sexuality, menopause and health complaints affecting genitalia.

Dr Netta Avnoon of Tel Aviv University (courtesy of Tel Aviv University)

It’s a positive trend that more women are becoming specialists in obstetrics and gynecology, but it’s not enough as old assumptions still abound, she argued.

“To generate real change, doctors must be trained to regard women’s rights, health, and sexuality as the main focus of women’s medicine,” she said.

“Greater emphasis should be given to patient experience and autonomy in medical settings, and to much-needed innovation in research, instruments, technologies, protocols, surgical procedures and medications,” she said.

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