Gender representation of cancer patients in medical treatment and psychosocial survivorship research: changes over three decades

Cancer. 2012 Oct 1;118(19):4824-32. doi: 10.1002/cncr.27432. Epub 2012 Jan 31.


Background: Prior studies raise concern about gender bias in cancer research, including insufficient inclusion of women or men, or studying women and men differently. The 1993 National Institutes of Health Revitalization Act aimed to eliminate gender bias in medicine. To examine changes in medical and psychological literature, this study reviews gender representation in biomedical treatment studies and psychosocial survivorship studies published in a single year.

Methods: Research published in Cancer in 2007, and all empirical psychological studies about cancer published that year, provided a 15-year update to findings reported by Meyerowitz and Hart. The gender distribution and context of included articles were coded and compared with findings from 1983 and 1992.

Results: Across biomedical studies, 34.3% of subjects were women (vs 47% of new cancers and 48% of cancer deaths). Among men, 41.3% had sex-specific cancers (vs 12.5% [1983] and 12.3% [1992]). Among women, 46.1% had sex-specific cancers (vs 69.1% [1983] and 64.6% [1992]). Fewer women (36.8%) were represented in sex-nonspecific cancer studies (vs 41.4% [1983] and 42.5% [1992]); however, fewer studies had a significant (>20%) gender disparity. Across psychosocial studies, representation of men increased to 47.9% (vs 30.4% [1983] and 29.9% [1992]). The proportion of men in studies of feelings/relationships increased to 47% (vs 22.9% [1992]); the proportion of women in studies assessing physical/functional ability increased to 58.3% (vs 45.4%).

Conclusions: Women remain under-represented in sex-nonspecific biomedical research, whereas men's representation in sex-specific research increased substantially. Psychosocial research trends suggest movement from research questions supporting traditional stereotypes that women feel and men act.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Biomedical Research / trends*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • National Institutes of Health (U.S.)
  • Neoplasms* / therapy
  • Sex Distribution
  • Sex Factors
  • Sexism*
  • Stereotyping*
  • Survival Rate
  • United States