Women May Feel Cancer Treatment Side Effects More Than Men

While health experts have known for years that gender plays a role in which cancers someone will develop, new evidence sheds light on how gender may have an impact on side effects from chemotherapy, according to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America. Specifically, it shows that women and men experience different side effects from the treatment. While both genders seem to have the same rates of toxicity from chemotherapy, women appear to experience greater effects regarding hair loss, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and mouth ulcers. Furthermore, women more often experience "potentially life-threatening complications [that] often require hospital admission."

New research published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology showed that women also tend to have more adverse effects from immunotherapy and targeted therapy as well. According to the National Cancer Institute, immunotherapy is a biological therapy treatment designed to help the immune system fight cancer. Targeted therapy uses drugs specifically designed to attack cancer cells without harming normal cells (per the American Cancer Society).

Gender may soon play a role in tailoring treatment

Data for this new research was obtained from the SWOG Cancer Research Network from July 1, 1989 to June 30, 2019 (via Journal of Clinical Oncology). Results showed that women have a 34% higher risk than men of severe side effects, such as pain, high blood pressure, or nausea, with chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and targeted therapy, according to U.S. News & World Report. That chance was even higher with immunotherapy, with women having a 49% higher risk for adverse effects than men. The study leader, Joseph Unger, indicated that gender-specific cancer treatments might be a better way to treat cancer. "These findings indicate that patient sex may be an important consideration for individualized treatment, including for novel new treatments like immunotherapy," he told U.S. News & World Report.

The study's authors also explained that some factors could play into the results. For one, women and men may simply report symptoms differently. Additionally, there are differences in how female and male bodies metabolize medications. Finally, how therapies were administered may also play a role in adverse effects.