Sex Differences in Cancer: Epidemiology, Genetics and Therapy

Biomol Ther (Seoul). 2018 Jul 1;26(4):335-342. doi: 10.4062/biomolther.2018.103.


The incidence and mortality of various cancers are associated with sex-specific disparities. Sex differences in cancer epidemiology are one of the most significant findings. Men are more prone to die from cancer, particularly hematological malignancies. Sex difference in cancer incidence is attributed to regulation at the genetic/molecular level and sex hormones such as estrogen. At the genetic/molecular level, gene polymorphism and altered enzymes involving drug metabolism generate differences in cancer incidence between men and women. Sex hormones modulate gene expression in various cancers. Genetic or hormonal differences between men and women determine the effect of chemotherapy. Until today, animal studies and clinical trials investigating chemotherapy showed sex imbalance. Chemotherapy has been used without consideration of sex differences, resulting in disparity of efficacy and toxicity between sexes. Based on accumulating evidence supporting sex differences in chemotherapy, all clinical trials in cancer must incorporate sex differences for a better understanding of biological differences between men and women. In the present review, we summarized the sex differences in (1) incidence and mortality of cancer, (2) genetic and molecular basis of cancer, (3) sex hormones in cancer incidence, and (4) efficacy and toxicity of chemotherapy. This review provides useful information for sex-based chemotherapy and development of personalized therapeutic strategies against cancer.

Keywords: Cancer; Chemotherapy; Sex Difference; Sex hormone.

Publication types

  • Review