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Gender Divide in Cancer Molecular Signatures

Cancer in men and cancer in women can be different diseases, and a team of researchers at University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center has sought to determine why, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The team led by MD Anderson's Han Liang analyzed molecular differences between male and female cancer patients in 13 cancer types from The Cancer Genome Atlas. As the researchers report in Cancer Cell, they uncovered eight types of cancer in which men and women had different molecular profiles, including thyroid carcinoma, renal clear cell carcinoma, and head and neck squamous cell carcinoma. Further, they found that slightly more than half of the clinically actionable mutations exhibited sex-biased signatures.

"The gender effect in terms of molecular analysis is largely ignored in the field," Liang tells the Journal. "Doctors should know if there's a therapy that is more likely to work for males or females."

Oncologists tell the WSJ that they are fascinated by the results, but that it's too soon to use them to guide treatments. In any event, Vasan Yegnasubramanian from Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center adds that such stratification will soon go beyond gender as individuals' tumors are mined for treatment targets. "[A]t the end of the day we'll still have to profile [the mutations in] an individual's tumor if we want to realize the promise of precision medicine," he says.