On average, men live in poorer health than women. But in addition to lifestyle, biology apparently also plays a decisive role in who gets what – especially cancer.
Men suffer a total of eleven types of cancer much more frequently than women: the differences in cancers of the esophagus, larynx, gastric entrance and bladder are particularly clear, as researchers have been able to show. Americans.
The cause could be differences in the hormone levels, immune system and genes of women and men. A healthy lifestyle nevertheless reduces the risk, says cancer expert Matthias Preusser – although unfortunately it cannot be set to “zero”.
When it comes to men and their increased risk of serious illnesses, the culprit is usually quickly identified: the often unhealthy lifestyle compared to women. The average man increasingly smokes, eats less healthily and drinks more alcohol than the average woman. And all of this increases the risk of developing cancer. Is it any wonder, then, that men are at a higher risk than women for many cancers? Not only: because besides the way of life, the male or female biology apparently also plays a decisive role.
The research team led by Sarah S. Jackson of the National Cancer Institute of the United States took a closer look in a large analysis and studied the lifestyle and possible cancer diseases of a total of 334,905 retirees. Lifestyle has been shown to have a significant impact on the risk of developing the disease – but that’s not the only reason why men are more likely to develop cancer than women in a total of eleven types of cancer.
The differences in cancers of the oesophagus, larynx, gastrointestinal and bladder were particularly marked. But the study also revealed two types of cancer that are more common in women, regardless of their lifestyle: thyroid and gallbladder cancers. Exceptions are sex-specific cancers such as prostate, cervical and ovarian cancer, which can only occur naturally in one sex. This means that for the vast majority of all the anatomical structures that men and women have in common, men have a higher risk of cancer – regardless of their lifestyle.
The researchers wonder: is it the hormones, the genes, the immune system?
The study authors conclude that human biology is to blame for this. But researchers are still wondering what exactly it is. Possible culprits could be the sex-specific hormone levels of testosterone or progesterone. However, differences in the body’s defense reactions are also conceivable. Because women naturally show a higher immune response. And it is precisely this that also plays a decisive role in certain types of cancer.
Finally, the genes themselves could contribute to the difference: “In men and women, genes are sometimes read and activated in different ways. This could also influence the risk of cancer”, explains Matthias Preusser, professor and head from the clinical department of oncology at the Medical University of Vienna.
Further background research would be helpful. “So-called gender medicine is becoming more and more important in cancer medicine – not only in prevention, but also in therapy. We already know that some cancer drugs are metabolized differently by women than by men – and therefore need to be dosed differently,” says Preusser.
Why Lifestyle Still Matters
Until we know what biological mechanisms are behind the increased risk of cancer in men, only proven lifestyle changes remain. And we must not forget their considerable influence, in addition to all the biological differences. Also in the present study, for seven types of cancer, more common in men than in women, it was not biology that was the decisive risk factor, but mainly unhealthy habits.
A particularly impressive example is again lung cancer. According to the Robert Koch Institute, 90% of all lung cancers in men are caused by smoking. In women, however, this is only about 60% of cases.
Quitting smoking is just one important step. Eating healthy, drinking little alcohol and avoiding sunburn are also well-known – if not always easy to follow – rules of life that minimize our risk of cancer. Less known, according to doctors Preusser, is the preventive effect of HPV vaccination. “Many people don’t know that HPV vaccination effectively reduces not only the risk of genital tumors, but also ear, nose and throat cancer,” he says.
Despite all measures, cancer cannot always be completely prevented. “A healthy lifestyle reduces the risk – but unfortunately it can’t be set to ‘zero,'” says Preusser. However, the cancer expert points out the positive side effects: if you lead a healthy lifestyle, you will kill several birds with one stone. “It lowers your risk of cancer – but also of all other common causes of death, such as heart attacks and strokes.”
And not too little: according to the German Heart Foundation, 90% of all heart attacks can be attributed to an unhealthy lifestyle. So there are enough reasons, despite all the biological differences, to reconsider New Year’s resolutions – for women and for men.