Sex Makes a Difference in Cancer

Melanoma survival better in women than men

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Did you know that women who have cancer are more likely to outlive men with the disease? This is true for a variety of cancers. In terms of the worst form of skin cancer, women have an advantage that's not fully understood.

Women with advanced melanoma (stage III or IV) typically live longer than men with advanced forms of the disease.

The reason for this phenomenon is not clearly understood. But this study has ruled out that the advantage has to do with behavior, i.e., being diagnosed earlier.

"If you notice a mole changing in any way, get it checked out."

Arjen Joosse, PhD, of Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, worked with other European researchers on this study.

The goal was to determine the differences between the sexes in the survival and progression of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, which will be diagnosed in nearly 77,000 Americans this year.

The researchers gathered data from three large randomized studies involving 2,734 patients with stage III melanoma, and two trials involving 1,306 people with stage IV melanoma. 

Three so-called "end points" were measured: overall survival, disease-specific survival (melanoma as the cause of death) and progression-free survival (period before cancer worsens).

For those with stage III melanoma, the five-year disease-specific survival for women was 51.5 percent compared to 43.3 percent for men.

Among those with stage IV disease, the two-year disease-specific survival was 19 percent for women and 14.1 percent for men.

"This is an interesting study that suggests that female sex may be independently protective in the survival of patients with metastatic melanoma," Victoria Sharon, MD, DTMH, director of the Dermatology Inpatient Consultation Service and assistant professor of dermatology and dermatologic surgery at the University of California, Davis Medical Center, told dailyRx News.

"The female advantage appears to be unrelated to behavior differences between males and females and rather due to a yet unknown biological trait," she said.

Behavioral differences, in this case, pertain to women typically having the disease diagnosed earlier than men.

According to the authors, "[T]he female advantage was consistent across end points, independent of other prognostic factors, and it persisted in all stages of melanoma progression."

This study was published in the June 20 issue of Journal of Clinical Oncology. No author disclosed a potential conflict of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 17, 2013
Last Updated:
August 2, 2013