Women's health in Australia

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Women and men are predisposed to different illnesses. Susceptibility to certain diseases or illnesses comes down to biological and/or behavioural differences between the two gendersi. It is important for women to be aware of the diseases that their gender puts them at a higher risk of.

Improving the health of women in Australia requires an understanding that women and men have different health needs and obstacles.

Leading causes of death and burden of disease

According to the latest issue of Causes of Death, Australia, released by the ABS, diseases that caused a higher proportion of death in females included cerebrovascular diseases (brain dysfunction caused by limited or no blood flow to the brain), Ischaemic heart diseases, breast cancer and diseases of the respiratory systemii.

In 2006, over 57% of women aged 18 and over considered their health status to be excellent or very goodiii. Furthermore, women (39%) are more likely to believe that breast cancer is the leading cause of death in Australian women than they do cardiovascular diseases (26%). Yet, diseases of the heart and blood vessels, including coronary heart disease, stroke and heart failure are the leading causes of death among females. These diseases contribute to 60 per cent of all female deaths, and women are 10 per cent more likely to suffer from it than meniv.

Breast cancer is still one of the most common cancers that have a more significant impact on women compared to meniv. The latest Breast cancer in Australia: an overview report revealed that in 2006 over 12,000 new cases were diagnosed, and a total of 2,618 women died, which made it the second most common cause of cancer-related deaths for womenv. While the survival rate has improved significantly, the number of women diagnosed with breast cancer is expected to continue to increase in future yearsv.

Women are also at a greater risk of developing osteoporosis than menvi. Oestrogen is an important hormone for maintaining healthy bones, and when hormone levels decrease, the bones lose calcium (and other minerals) at a much faster ratevi. Figures from the 2007-2008 National Health Survey revealed that of the 700,000 Australians that were diagnosed with this degenerative condition, 82% were femalevii.

Women are encouraged to take a mammogram and Pap smear once every two years, at minimum.

Healthier living

There are measures we can all take to promote a healthier way of living and reduce the risk of developing chronic illnesses, although sometimes it can be difficult knowing exactly where to start. Websites, such as the Better Health Channel - a Victorian Government initiative - provide information and tips on various health conditions and treatments as well as guidelines on how to eat healthy and stay active. For further assistance, the website also has a services and support page, where you can search more specifically on different types of community services, such as doctors, hospitals and dieticians.

Women are encouraged to have their breasts screened once every two years, at minimum. BreastScreen Australia provides free screening mammograms to all women over the age of 40. For more information about the program or to find out how to arrange a mammogram, head to the BreastScreen Australia website. Women are also urged to take a Pap smear once every two years. There are usually no symptoms during the early stages of cervical cancer and changes can only be detected with a Pap smearviii. Head to the National Cervical Screening Program website to learn more about the benefits of having regular Pap smears, or talk to your GP to find out what options are available to you.

Taking out life insurance is another choice you can make to ensure your family is not put under financial strain in the event of a serious illness or permanent disability that renders you unable to work. The costs associated to treating critical illnesses can be burdensome and life insurance can ensure your family's financial future is not compromised. Visit the Allianz website today for a quote.

i Zagrosek, V.R., 2012, Sex and gender differences in health, Science and Society, http://www.nature.com.ezproxy.lib.uts.edu.au/embor/journal/v13/n7/pdf/embor201287a.pdf, p.1

i Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2012, Causes of Death, Australia, 2010, http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Products/BBC4B00DFF0E942ACA2579C6000F6B15?opendocument

iii Department of Health and Ageing, 2010, National Women's Health Policy 2010, Australian Government, http://www.healthissuescentre.org.au/documents/items/2011/01/358268-upload-00001.pdf, p.27

iv Department of Health and Ageing, 2008, Developing a Women's Health Policy for Australia - Setting the Scene, Australian Government, http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/phd-women-policy#whatis

v Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2009, Breast cancer in Australia: an overview, 2009, Australian Government, http://www.aihw.gov.au/publication-detail/?id=6442468297

vi Osteoporosis Australia, 2011, Risk Factors Who Gets Osteoporosis, http://www.osteoporosis.org.au/about/about-osteoporosis/risk-factors/

vii Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2012, Arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions, Australian Government, http://www.aihw.gov.au/arthritis-and-musculoskeletal-conditions-health-priority-area/

viii Department of Health and Ageing, 2012, The Pap Smear, Australian Government, http://www.cancerscreening.gov.au/internet/screening/publishing.nsf/Content/papsmear