In the past, women's health concerns too often have been casually dismissed by the male-dominated medical field as merely "female problems." Fortunately, that situation is undergoing a dramatic change; awareness is growing and sensitivity is increasing.

As a six-part series in the Deseret News illustrated this week, the attitudes of women, and of doctors toward women patients, are evolving in ways that promise better medical treatment for women.Because their roles in society have taken on a new look, with women heavily represented in the workplace, many of them single parents functioning as heads of households, and having longer life spans, more serious attention is being paid to their health concerns.

With their added responsibilities, many women are learning to ask more questions, to be less passive about what the doctor says, and to worry more about their own health. In short, more women are becoming participants and not just recipients in their health care.

Unfortunately, not all doctors have gotten the message and some persist in treating women patients with a certain condescension, dismissing their concerns and fears as unfounded. Yet they are in shrinking group. More and more hospitals offer specialized health care programs for women.

These new attitudes, plus advances in medical knowledge, are causing doctors to re-evaluate and seek new approaches to such things as pregnancy and childbirth, hysterectomies, breast cancer, infertility, menopause, depression, and aging.

One result is that there is less use of the "easy" answer of surgery. Enlightened physicians perform fewer C-sections in childbirth and fewer hysterectomies, for example. Those that are done are increasingly reserved for far more serious circumstances than before.

In the midst of such change, women need to be informed medical consumers. They should not be afraid to ask questions, inquire about alternatives to suggested treatments, and to get second opinions.

Better health is a plus not just for individuals but also for society, particularly as mature or elderly people become a larger percentage of the U.S. population.