Researchers are shedding new light on why cancer is often a different disease for men than it is for women.

A new study suggests that for many cancers, important differences in the genetics of tumors in men as compared with women may affect the development and aggressiveness of the disease or how it responds to treatment. Researchers said the findings could eventually affect drug development and lead to strategies for preventing and treating cancer that take a patient’s sex into account.

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Gender differences in cancer have long been apparent. It is well established, for instance, that men are more likely to get cancer and to die of it, trends generally attributed in part to such factors as lifestyle and sex hormones. But what happens at the molecular level to affect the trajectory of the disease in men versus women is only beginning to be understood.

“The gender effect in terms of molecular analysis is largely ignored in the field,” says Han Liang, associate professor of bioinformatics and computational biology at University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. “Doctors should know if there’s a therapy that is more likely to work for males or females.”

Dr. Liang is senior author of the study, which was published online last week in the journal Cancer Cell.

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