But doctors still have very little concrete advice on how to prevent some of these major killers, experts acknowledged Monday at "Women and Doctors," the second annual briefing on women's health at the Century Plaza Hotel.
The event attracted leading medical authorities and 1,200 women to discuss how to improve the health of women nationwide. The event was sponsored by the Revlon/UCLA Women's Health Research Program in association with Mirabella magazine and Giorgio Armani.
"We want to get information out to women. The problem is that women's health has only recently come to the fore," said Dr. Dennis Slamon, director of the UCLA/Revlon center. The Revlon/UCLA program was established in 1990 to develop diagnostic and therapeutic procedures to combat cancer, train doctors in women's health and educate women about their health.
While funding for breast cancer research has increased fivefold in recent years, "We still don't know how to protect against breast cancer and we don't know how to cure it," said Frances M. Visco, president of the National Breast Cancer Coalition. Visco was presented with the Mirabella Powerhouse Award for her advocacy efforts on behalf of breast cancer patients.
Despite these knowledge gaps, women need to keep up with the latest developments in medical research. According to experts attending the event, the progress includes:
* The location of a gene linked to a hereditary form of breast cancer. A blood test to detect the gene may be available within a few years.
* Research on vitamins A and C, which may be used in the future to prevent changes in cells in the cervix that lead to cancer.
* Research on how the use of oral contraceptives, breast-feeding and tubal ligation may work to lower the risk of ovarian cancer.
* Evidence that girls should consume more calcium to build more bone mass and lower the risk of osteoporosis much later in life.
* Research on understanding why bone tissue deposits are found in the arteries of people with heart disease and whether those bone deposits may be linked to bone loss in the spine.
* Evidence that consumption of food products may do more to protect against certain diseases than taking specific vitamin supplements.
While some of this research will bear answers to important questions, much of what women need to do now involves following such old-fashioned wisdom as exercising and eating your vegetables, said Dr. Susan Love, a breast cancer surgeon at UCLA.
"There is no magic pill. It's all the stuff your mother told you."