News and Information

How Cancer Can Differ Between Genders

02-20-2018

I am often asked if men get breast cancer. Male breast cancer accounts for 1% of all diagnosed breast cancer. While men and women are different in physical appearance and personality characteristics, neither gender is immune to a certain type of cancer. Even so, cancer does affect men and women differently.

Statistics show that 1 in 2 men will develop some form of cancer in his lifetime, compared to a statistic of 1 in 3 for women. Women are most affected by breast, colon, endometrial, lung, cervical, skin and ovarian cancers, while men are most affected by prostate, colon, lung and skin cancers.

Epidemiologists know that men are more likely to develop cancer and women are more likely to survive it. In fact, studies show that men with any type of cancer were 6% more likely to die of their disease than women with cancer. This rose to more than 12% when comparing men and women with the same cancer type. Scientists have had a hard time determining why until recently.

A recent study suggests that the differences between the sexes may in part be due to carcinogenic exposures and lifestyle factors like cigarette smoking, drinking alcohol and eating fattier foods – all of which are more prevalent among men.

Take liver cancer, for example. Researchers believe men are almost twice more likely to develop liver cancer than women. This is probably related to heavier alcohol consumption among men which may also account for a greater incidence of other cancers in men, like head and neck cancer. The disparity may also be due to fewer doctors’ visits and cancer screenings among men, who tend to avoid medical care more than women. This leads to symptoms going unchecked for longer and cancer being diagnosed in later, more advances stages in men.

For other cases, the risk of developing cancer can be traced back to the hormones contributing to differences in men’s and women’s immune systems, metabolism and general susceptibility to cancer as well as genetic differences. One study examined 13 different types of cancers associated with males and females. Researchers compared genetics of men’s tumors with women’s and found differences in eight cancers suggesting a gender connection.

Men and women also differ in how they choose to fight the disease. It has been observed that men are more deliberative, analytical and data-driven, while women are more emotional and often choose the more aggressive therapy. Women also tend to seek guidance from cancer survivors and turn to their peers for advice. Strong social connections have been linked to greater health. Men often weigh the cost-benefit ratio, take time to consider the options and communicate with their physicians in a matter of fact language, but they often have less reliable social networks than women.

Researchers continue to study the effects of cancer in men and women to help them make more effective decisions regarding treatment.

Some cancers are unavoidable, but doing what we can to help prevent cancer - by making healthy choices, staying on top of symptoms and getting screened for starters - we can bring our best defense. In 2018, resolve to be proactive about your health.

Dr. Linh O’Connor specializes in general and breast surgery and practices at CaroMont Surgical Associates in Gastonia.

Categories: Physician's Blog