Sex differences in susceptibility to carcinogens

Semin Oncol. 2009 Dec;36(6):516-23. doi: 10.1053/j.seminoncol.2009.09.005.


Lung cancer has reached epidemic proportions in women, and is now the most common cause of cancer death among both men and women in the United States. While smoking rates have declined marginally in women, the rising impact of lung cancer in women may imply that women are at higher risk from carcinogens secondary to underlying factors related to sex. These factors include differences in female physiology such as bronchial responsiveness and airway size, sex-based differences in nicotine metabolism via the cytochrome p450 system driven by hormones, and differences in DNA repair capacity, as well as the evolution of cigarettes. These hypotheses will be explored in depth in this article.

MeSH terms

  • Carcinogens
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System / metabolism
  • DNA Adducts
  • DNA Repair
  • Disease Susceptibility
  • Estrogens / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lung / physiology*
  • Lung Neoplasms / chemically induced*
  • Lung Neoplasms / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Nicotine / metabolism
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / chemically induced
  • Receptors, Estrogen / physiology
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors


  • Carcinogens
  • DNA Adducts
  • Estrogens
  • Receptors, Estrogen
  • Nicotine
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System