Skin cancer: women have a 30% edge

Women diagnosed with melanoma are more likely to survive the skin cancer than men and less likely to have it recur, according to a European study.

The findings, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, support research showing that women are less likely to die from melanoma, the deadliest of the skin cancers.

Researchers suggested that biological differences between the sexes might influence how the body deals with the cancer, although a definitive explanation on the better outcome for women remains uncertain. Lead author Arjen Joosse and his team looked at four clinical trials that melanoma patients had joined.

The more than 2 600 study participants were followed for two to 12 years. Over time, 366 of the men and 267 of the women died.

This meant women were 30 percent less likely to die from any cause during the time studied, and nearly 30 percent less likely to die from the melanoma than men.

They were also 30 percent less likely to have a relapse.

Earlier studies had hinted that behaviours explained the differences between men and women – such as women being perhaps more likely to visit their doctor after noticing changes on their skin, and being diagnosed with cancer earlier as well as having thinner tumours.

But even when the researchers took into account the thickness of the tumours, they found that women had a 30 percent advantage over men in the progression of the disease. “Once somebody has melanoma, we believe that men and women deal with it differently,” said Vernon Sondak, chair of the department of Cutaneous Oncology at Moffitt Cancer Center.

The obvious potential explanation was oestrogen, Joosse said – but if oestrogen was responsible, then post-menopausal women, who have low oestrogen levels, should have a smaller advantage over men in their age group than younger women have over younger men. – Reuter

  1. #1 by Hein Vandenbergh on May 3, 2012 - 10:53 pm

    Interesting. I do not think that ‘oetrogen’ is the ‘obvious’ answer. As we know, one melanoma is not the same as another, and in fact, one melanoma may consist of different genotypes. I wonder whether women’s melanomas are DNA-wise the same as those in males. Also, women’s immune systems are different from those in males: each pregancy is a genotypically different ‘tumour’, yet the maternal immune system does not [always] reject the pregnancy. During pregnancy, too, melanocytes increase their activity [hence the darkening of pre-existing naevi during pregnancy].

    I think the answer to this observation lies in a very deep and complex immune puzzle.

    But why melanoma and not other tumours? Hmm, how many other tumours – apart from E-receptor POS breast cancers – are affected by pregnancy in a manner such as benign melanocytes, increasing thier activity? Maybe it is precisely the latter which ‘primes’ women’s immune systems to ‘abnormal’ melanocytes?

    Fascinating, Ian.

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