Great Hospitals for Women Over 40

Medical spots that tailor programs specifically to women our age.

by Meryl Davids Landau
Photograph: Illustrated by Bryan Christie

Fibroids: Georgetown University Hospital, Washington, D.C.
Uterine fibroid embolization (UFE) is typically the treatment of choice for dealing with debilitating fibroids (noncancerous uterine tumors), which disproportionately affect women in their forties. During the procedure, tiny beads are inserted into the uterine artery to cut off blood flow; the fibroids shrink, and the patient gets relief without having to undergo a hysterectomy. Probably no hospital is more adept at the procedure than the Georgetown University Hospital, a pioneer in the method since 1997. James Spies, MD, chair of the department of radiology, says the hospital’s high success rate stems not only from its long experience (2,500-plus women have undergone the procedure there so far), but also from the hospital’s commitment to continuing research; Spies and his colleagues have published more than 80 studies.

Recently, for instance, after testing various types of beads for effectiveness, the hospital banned all but the top-scoring two. Georgetown also keeps a close eye on patient comfort. “We start pain management while women are still in the procedure room, so it’s seamless,” Spies says. If a woman is not a candidate for UFE, another option, surgical removal of the fibroids, is done at Georgetown with state-of-the-art equipment, and can often be done laparoscopically, which performs the job with less pain than usual.

What to look for closer to home Find physicians who perform UFE at the Society of Interventional Radiology Web site, Ask how many procedures they’ve performed and what the outcomes were, Spies suggests. Then inquire into their hospital’s pain management approach. “Hospitals have different cultures about this, and it absolutely affects your experience during and after a procedure,” says Elvira Lang, MD, associate professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School.

Breast Cancer:  Northside Hospital, Atlanta
Top academic teaching hospitals don’t have a lock on great women’s programs, especially when it comes to breast cancer. Many community hospitals perform well in this area, and foremost among them is Northside Hospital in Atlanta, which diagnoses over one thousand cases a year—more than half in women ages 40 to 59. Northside’s Breast Care Program has the latest equipment (digital mammography, computer assisted detection and stereotactic biopsy machines—where views from two angles are fed to a computer to calculate a lump’s exact location). Northside’s breast program has a staff of over 50 physicians, and the hospital’s five-year average survival rates for breast cancer exceed the national average.

Another special feature of Northside is the intense support it offers to women with breast cancer. “As soon as the doctor tells a woman she has the disease—before she has time to Google—I call to wrap my arms around her,” says Susan Casella, RN, head nurse navigator. Additional support comes from the hospital’s Network of Hope, which connects new patients with women who’ve successfully completed treatment. “We match women for age, careers, family situation and the like, so each patient feels that her mentor understands all she’s going through,” explains Patti Owen, RN, di­rector of oncology services. After treatment, women can opt to join a survivors support group.

What to look for closer to home A new National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers puts a stamp of approval on programs meeting rigorous criteria—from care (such as the quality of the pathology department) to caring (such as having a survivors program). The ranks of accredited programs are small but growing. (Northside is currently being evaluated.) Find accredited centers at Then call to ask what special support they offer for women over 40.

Depression:  Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia

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