The differences, disabilities and superiorities of the sexes have been debated and discussed for hundreds of years. Do they exist? Is there a gender that comes out on top? Should one sex be lauded over the other because of their physical beauty or brute strength?
Whatever your opinion on issues like misandry, feminism and the battle of the sexes, cancer doesn’t discriminate — anyone of any gender, sex or orientation can be diagnosed sometime in their life. There’s also a question of biology: cancer has always been able to affect men and women in drastically different ways.
When it comes to cancer, men lose — studies have shown for decades that men are much more likely to both be diagnosed with cancer and to die from it. Almost one in two men will be diagnosed with cancer, with women coming in at one in three. Researchers understand that some of the reasoning comes from lifestyle and sex hormones, but only recently have they truly begin to understand the difference between men and women who get cancer at a molecular level.
Why Does this Happen?
As mentioned above, the typical lifestyle differences between men and women could be a huge catalyst. The journal “Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention” found that when studying women from 1977 to 2006, they were more likely to survive cancer that could be found in both sexes. This includes cancers like lung and colorectal, while of course excluding biologically female-only cancers like uterine and ovarian. While this data is outdated, Dr. Glen Weiss theorized that lifestyle factors like smoking and eating fattier foods could be the culprit.
In other cases, women do get diagnosed with cancer more often, like in the case of developing lung cancer without having smoked. In this case of diagnosis, women are more likely to be diagnosed than male counterparts, which calls into question whether sex and cancer can be truly linked in some cases.
This actually looks at a deeper issue of sex and cancer: is there a true correlation, or is this correlation without causation? Some doctors argue that while some cancers are obviously effecting more women than men, is it because of a cultural issue or something literally genetically ingrained in men and woman at a biological level.
It’s important to look at these theories from a cultural perspective. If someone was 50 in 1977 and was diagnosed with cancer, they were growing up in the 30s and 40s. In this case, men were more likely to smoke, drink and live the high life while women didn’t perform these activities as much due to cultural standards. As our culture becomes more homogenized in the context of what women and men can do, it may be likely that the statistics begin to even out.
In short, just because men are more likely to be involved in a cultural practice doesn’t mean that a cancer related to that practice is linked to a man genetically — it’s instead linked to the practice. If no women drank alcohol and only men were allowed to consume it, would the cancers derived from that practice be male-specific cancers? No, they would be alcohol specific cancers.
The Possibility of Treatment
Despite cultural practices playing a part in how cancer affects the sexes, it is possible that there is a genetic link that needs to be explored. Another study conducted by “Cancer Cell” found that when comparing the genetics of both men’s and women’s tumors, genetic differences were found in eight different types of cancers. These included bladder, head and neck, liver, thyroid, kidney and two types of lung cancers.
Why is this so important? First, any new knowledge we can find out about cancer can lead us down the right path to treatment. Second, in this case it’s possible that we may be able to find a better way to cure different types of cancer for both men and women by understanding these genetic differences.
If a type of cancer is genetically different inside of a woman versus inside of a man, the treatment may be more effective for one over the other. The woman may be more receptive to a certain type of treatment, while she may be more resistant to another.
This kind of understanding is extremely important in the field of precision cancer treatment. Precision cancer treatment examines tumors on a molecular level, exploring genetics and mutations on the genome that may explain the cancer and how to treat it. This type of cancer treatment has yet to fully explore the concept of treating cancer based on sex, but the potential is there as more research is done.
More studies will be performed in the near future that can better explore the link between sex chromosomes and cancerous cells. As more research is performed, the more likely we are to understand this link and whether or not we can better perfect cancer treatments because of it.