tre kvinnor utomhus, i profil i med vårsol i ansiktet.
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Companies sell medical tests with feminist rhetoric


Being able to give birth and predict breast cancer. These are areas where tests and treatments, often lacking scientific support, are marketed using feminist rhetoric. University of Gothenburg is contributing to a critical analysis of this marketing.

Minna Johansson, a specialist physician in general medicine and researcher at the University of Gothenburg, is one of the authors behind the scientific analysis published in The BMJ journal. The publication also involves researchers from the University of Sydney and the University of Queensland in Australia.

Minna Johansson.
Photo: Fredrik Johansson

“It is provocative that women's health is exploited by commercial interests in this manner. Messages about women's right to control their own bodies are used to sell unscientific tests and treatments with risks of harm, without informing women about the uncertainty surrounding their effectiveness.,” says Minna Johansson.

False sense of control

In their analysis, the researchers highlight two recent examples indicating how feminist descriptions are used to promote treatments for women with questionable evidence.

The first example relates to female fertility, which promotes a blood test for a hormone called anti-Müllerian hormone that can be linked to the number of eggs in a woman’s ovaries. However, there is no scientific evidence that this is capable of predicting a woman’s chances of getting pregnant. Even so, the test is sold to women in general by fertility clinics and online companies with advertising claims such as “Knowledge is power and lets you take control of your fertility".

The second example concerns breast density. Women who undergo mammography examinations are usually not provided with information about their breast density. However, voices are being raised asserting that it is a woman's right to know, as dense breasts are one of several risk factors for breast cancer.

Brooke Nickel, a researcher at the University of Sydney in Australia, is the last author for the analysis.

Brooke Nickel.
Photo: University of Sydney

“To be informed about having dense breasts can increase women's anxiety and cause confusion. Often, this leads to seeking further screenings and additional tests. However, measuring breast density is unreliable. The evidence supporting the benefit of conducting multiple tests for women with dense breasts is far from robust,” says Brooke Nickel.

Unnecessary for many

Some women may benefit from the examination methods, tests and treatments available. But as advocates push and companies seek commercial gain, these medical interventions are reaching a much larger group of women, many of whom are unlikely to benefit from the intervention.

The first author is researcher Tessa Copp from the University of Sydney in Australia:

Tessa Copp.
Photo: University of Sydney

“This marketing behavior risks harming women. More people with conditions that are not really medical in nature may end up seeking medical treatment anyway as a result. This increased medicalization contributes to both overdiagnosis and overtreatment,” says Tessa Copp.

“Women's health has historically been underprioritized. Both within healthcare and medical research, women's health needs more resources. However, companies profiting from selling unnecessary tests and treatments are not helping, “ says Minna Johansson.