Colleen O’Brien: Female oncologist gives advice for women choosing a doctor

Mar 23, 2024, 2:00 PM | Updated: 4:37 pm

Photo: An unoccupied recovery area, left, and an abortion procedure room are seen at a Planned Pare...

An unoccupied recovery area, left, and an abortion procedure room are seen at a Planned Parenthood Arizona facility in Tempe, Ariz., on June 30, 2022. (File photo: Matt York, AP)

(File photo: Matt York, AP)

March is Women’s History Month which comes with a lot of celebration for the achievements and advancements made by women. However, society has a long way to go when it comes to treating females as equally important as their male counterparts.

Mayfield: Why centering more women’s voices matter this month and every month

Medicine, for example, has long been a place where women’s pain has been mishandled or downright not believed. I spoke with Dr. Elizabeth Comen, an oncologist and author of “All In Her Head: The Truth and Lies Early Medicine Taught Us About Women’s Bodies, And Why It Matters Today.”

‘We are afraid of making people uncomfortable,’ says Dr. Comen

“The opening of my book is a story of a woman on her deathbed and she would not be the first or last to apologize to me for something in that setting,” Comen said.

In this case, this woman apologized to me for sweating hours before her death. And in a given day when I see breast cancer patients, both who are sick or well, and I’m doing a breast exam, for example, almost every woman apologizes to me for something — not shaving their armpits, not having a pedicure or manicure, sweating during the appointment, asking too many questions. These are basic, either natural phenomena or basic needs that we have and yet mirroring a lot of what women deal with in society. I think we are afraid of making people uncomfortable, including in a doctor’s office and we disproportionately apologize for things that I don’t think we should be apologizing for,” she continued.

Speaking from my own experience, this does not surprise me. Women apologize for a lot — sometimes for just existing.

I’ve been trying to reverse this tendency. I have to say “sorry” when I’m simply standing somewhere and someone comes up alongside me. Like I’m in their way.

Women not getting proper treatment goes back historically

Back to medicine, Comen said women not getting the medical response or treatment they need goes way back in history and reversal of that bias has only just begun.

2016 study: Female physicians are paid $20,000 to $50,000 less than their male colleagues

“It wasn’t until 1993 that women were even required to be part of NIH (National Institutes of Health) funded clinical trials and minorities as well. So many of the drugs that we use, the devices that we use, the imaging techniques that we have, were based on this 70-kilogram reference male and did not include equal participation from women,” said Comen.

And that includes not only human subjects but when we look at drugs or techniques that were developed in the laboratory, it was often male animal models or male-derived cells that much of what we know about medicine was studied upon,” she added.

Comen shared advice for women before they choose a doctor and when they’re with a doctor. The full interview can be heard here:

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien weekday mornings from 5-9 a.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Colleen O’Brien: Female oncologist gives advice for women choosing a doctor