Does your sex matter when you have a glioblastoma?

Friday 11 January 2019

Recent research has shown that sex differences impact outcomes for people diagnosed with a glioblastoma. These differences go beyond hormone influences and were found to be intrinsic to tumour cells

Over the last few years, there has been a growing interest in adopting a personalised approach to treat cancer. However, a key feature of personalised treatment, which hasn't been considered, is a person's sex.

Sex differences play a key role in human health and disease, with past research confirming these differences affect the incidence of cardiovascular disease, asthma, depression, and even glioblastoma.

Glioblastoma is the most common and aggressive high-grade brain tumour occurring in adults. Despite aggressive treatment consisting of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy, the median overall survival is approximately 15 months from diagnosis.

Previous research has found that this disease is diagnosed more often in males than females. Furthermore, emerging data also suggests that treatment outcomes may also differ between the two sexes.

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis sought to further understand these differences and identify their causes. The researchers analysed standard MRIs, taken during routine treatment, from 371 patients and measured the amount of tumour growth and its spread into surrounding brain tissue.

The results of the study, published in Science Translational Medicine, show that female patients responded better to the current standard of treatment, compared to males.

To determine if this result was due to hormonal influences or genetic differences, the research team analysed publicly available data on cancer gene activity and found significant differences in the effect of certain genes in males and female glioblastomas.

The team discovered that men and women have very different genetic pathways that correlated with survival. For example, a drug targeting a specific protein may increase survival in women but would not have the same effect in men.

“We observed tremendous genetic sex differences in the tumours of glioblastoma patients that correlated with survival,” said study's co-senior author Jingqin 'Rosy' Luo, Ph.D. “All evidence supports the need to define these distinctions and incorporate the sex differences into glioblastoma biology research and treatment.”

This research could have a significant impact on how glioblastoma research is conducted. It provides a foundation for future research to think more about how diseases affect men and women in different ways.

It also encourages researchers and doctors to consider an individual's sex when tailoring treatments for an individual.

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