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Why are men at higher risk of getting most types of cancer than women?

By ASCO Postal Staff

Published: 08/08/2022 12:40:00

Last update: 08/08/2022 11:49:24

Rates of most types of cancer are higher in men than in women for reasons that are unclear. Results of a recent study published online by Jackson et al in the journal Cancer suggest that the cause may be underlying biological sex differences rather than behavioral differences related to smoking, alcohol consumption, diet, and other factors.

Understanding the reasons for gender differences in cancer risk could provide important information for improving prevention and treatment. Investigate, Sarah S. Jackson, PhDfrom the National Cancer Institute, and colleagues assessed differences in cancer risk for each of 21 cancer sites in 171,274 men and 122,826 adult women aged 50 to 71 who participated in the National Institutes of Health–AARP study Diet and Health from 1995 to 2011.

Main conclusions

During this period, 17,951 new cancers appeared in men and 8,742 in women. Incidence was lower in males than females for thyroid and gallbladder cancers only, and risks were 1.3 to 10.8 times higher in males than females for others anatomic sites. The greatest increased risks in men were seen for cancer of the esophagus (a 10.8 times higher risk), larynx (a 3.5 times higher risk), gastric cardia (a 3 .5 times higher) and bladder cancer (a 3.3 times higher risk). risk).

Men had an increased risk of developing most cancers, even after adjusting for a wide range of risky behaviors and carcinogenic exposures. Indeed, the differences in risk behaviors and carcinogenic exposures between the sexes explain only a modest proportion of the male predominance of most cancers (ranging from 11% for cancer of the esophagus to 50% for lung cancer).

The results suggest that biological gender differences, such as physiological, immunological, genetic and other differences, play a major role in the cancer susceptibility of men compared to women.

Implications of the study

“Our results show that there are differences in cancer incidence that cannot be explained by environmental exposures alone. This suggests that there are intrinsic biological differences between males and females that affect susceptibility to cancer,” Dr. Jackson said.

An accompanying editorial discusses the study’s findings and notes that a multi-faceted approach needs to be put in place to address gender disparities in cancer. “The strategic inclusion of sex as a biological variable should be applied across the cancer continuum, from risk prediction and primary cancer prevention, to cancer screening and secondary prevention, to cancer treatment and patient care,” the authors wrote. “Examining and addressing gender disparities in cancer and other diseases is an ongoing quest. Bench-to-bedside translational studies that effectively translate existing research findings into clinical practice, [offer] a scalable means at hand to achieve precision medicine and will mitigate – and may ultimately eradicate – gender disparities in cancer.

Disclosure: For full disclosures from the study authors, visit

The content of this article has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of ASCO®.