Determining the Role of Gender in Oncology Trial and Treatment Outcomes

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Differences between the sexes are known in a variety of cancers, but the reasons remain unclear.
Differences between the sexes are known in a variety of cancers, but the reasons remain unclear.

A growing body of research is expanding on the types of cancer and ways in which differences between men and women play out in terms of susceptibility, presentation, and mortality, bringing increasing calls for gender-specific analysis in clinical trials and therapeutic strategies.

The findings of a comprehensive analysis of molecular differences between the sexes in 13 cancer types, for example, “suggests a pressing need to develop sex-specific therapeutic strategies in certain cancer types,” according to its authors.1

The study, published in May, found that “53% of clinically actionable genes (60/114) show sex-biased signatures.”

"Our study helps elucidate the molecular basis for sex disparities in cancer and lays a critical foundation for the future development of precision cancer medicine that is sex-specific," the study team's leader, Han Liang, PhD, associate professor of bioinformatics and computational biology at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, said in a press release. "This is a crucial finding as currently, male and female patients with many cancer types often are treated in a similar way without explicitly considering their gender."

Differences between the sexes are known in a variety of cancers, but the reasons remain unclear.

According to the American Lung Association, for instance, “more men are diagnosed with lung cancer each year, but more women live with the disease. The rate of new cases in 2013 showed that men develop lung cancer more often than women (60.7 and 47.7 per 100,000, respectively).”2

Nearly the inverse is true when it comes to colorectal cancer. As researchers at the Sookmyung Women's University in Seoul, South Korea, reported in 2015, “females over 65 years old show higher mortality and lower 5-year survival rate of colorectal cancer (CRC) compared to their age-matched male counterparts.”3

Differences also stand out in the ways men and women react to therapeutic strategies. A CRC study published on the American Association for Cancer Research website noted that “use of aspirin…was associated with a lower incidence of CRC in men…but not in women.”4

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