July 13, 2011

USA: Men more likely than women to die of cancer, study shows

SEATTLE, Wa / The Seattle Times / News / July 13, 2011

Men are at higher risk than women of developing cancer within their lifetime, and a study released Tuesday shows they are also more likely to die from it.

By Roberto Daza, Seattle Times staff reporter

Men are at higher risk than women of developing cancer within their lifetime, and a study released Tuesday shows they are also more likely to die from it.

The analysis, published in the journal Cancer, Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, examined 36 types of cancer by gender, using almost 30 years of data, from 1977 and 2006.

It found that for the vast majority of cancers, men have higher mortality rates than women, with the highest disparities for conditions such as lip, throat and the rare hypopharyngeal cancer, which affects the area where the larynx and esophagus meet. Men were found to be about five times more likely to die from these diseases.

Rachel Ceballos, a public-health researcher at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, said scientists had suspected these disparities, but until now lacked any hard data to support those theories.

"There are really complex issues that go into these disparities," said Ceballos, and "this study provides a starting place, a better baseline on where to look."

Only five cancers — including breast, thyroid and gall-bladder cancer — had a higher mortality rate for women.

Cancers with the highest mortality rates — such as leukemia and lung, colon and pancreatic cancers — were also found to pose a greater risk of death for men. Men were found to be almost twice as likely than women to die from leukemia.

"We noted a consistent difference between genders," said Michael Cook, lead investigator for the study and researcher at the National Institutes of Health.

Cancer accounts for nearly 1 of every 4 deaths in the United States, exceeded only by heart disease, according to statistics from the American Cancer Society. About 1.6 million Americans will be diagnosed with it this year, and close to 600,000 people — more than 1,500 a day — will die of it.

Of those deaths, according to the American Cancer Society, close to 12,000 will be in Washington.

Determining the root cause is difficult, but influencing factors may include cancer screening among people without symptoms, the presence of other illnesses and a person's inclination to seek medical help. Cook and his colleagues point out that there is no single cause that is applicable to all cancers.

The study only suggests that because men are at a higher risk for cancer, this increases their odds of dying from it.

Researchers attribute general health disparities and rates of cancer diagnosis to a number of factors, including a simple one: Women rate their health worse than men. As a result, they see medical professionals more often from adolescence to middle age, and are less likely to die at each age.

"Causes of cancer depend on cancer type," said Cook, adding that environment, genetic differences between the sexes, and family history are also considered influences.

"There are large differences between men and women and understanding these differences in terms of cancer risk may help to reduce cancer rates in both men and women."

Cook and his colleagues also performed an analysis of survival rates among subjects five years after their diagnosis and found that gender does not play a major role. The study found that while men have poorer survival rates for many cancers, those differences are slight.

"If we can identify what are the cases of cancer incidence for each sex, we can develop preventive factors that can help," Cook said.

Roberto Daza
E-Mail: rdaza@seattletimes.com

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