Does estrogen make cancer behave differently?
New study explores gender differences
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Lung cancer acts differently in women from the way it does in men, and major new studies are exploring whether estrogen is a key reason -- and whether harnessing the hormone might help fight the No. 1 cancer killer.
The gender link may sound surprising. After all, ask women what cancer they worry most about, and surveys show breast cancer consistently tops the list while lung cancer is seldom mentioned.
Yet lung cancer is increasingly a women's problem. It will claim more than 162,000 lives this year, 72,000 of them women. That is more women than are killed by breast, ovarian, uterine and cervical cancers combined.
While male deaths from lung cancer have been dropping since 1991, women's death rates are stubbornly holding steady. Much of that difference is attributed to gender variations in smoking, lung cancer's main cause.
But consider: Women tend to get different kinds of lung cancer from men's. While it is unclear whether they are at greater risk of developing the disease, some research suggests they may absorb more cancer-causing chemicals from cigarettes and become sick after smoking less. Among people who never smoked, more women than men are found to have lung cancer.
On the other hand, women tend to survive lung cancer slightly better than their male counterparts. And some of the newest lung cancer drugs, Tarceva and Iressa, seem to work more often in women.
Teasing out the biology behind the gender differences could lead to improved treatment for everyone, says Dr. Kathy Albain, a lung cancer specialist at Loyola University Health System.
She is heading a National Cancer Institute-funded study that is recruiting 720 patients with newly diagnosed lung cancer to examine what hormones, genes or other molecular factors explain why lung cancer behaves differently in men and women, smokers and nonsmokers.
"We're learning what's going on in the lung, and whether or not this is a real thing that can be exploited for cancer treatment," she says.
Estrogen already is a leading suspect.
"We're just at the infancy" of exploring the hormone's role in lung cancer, cautions University of Pittsburgh pharmacologist Jill Siegfried, a pioneer in the field.
Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2006/HEALTH/conditions/05/29/women.lung.cancer.ap/index.html