Gender differences in cancer susceptibility: role of oxidative stress

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Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide and environmental factors, including chemicals, have been suggested as major etiological incitements. Cancer statistics indicates that men get more cancer than women. However, differences in the known risk factors including life style or occupational exposure only offer partial explanation. Using a text mining tool, we have investigated the scientific literature concerning male- and female-specific rat carcinogens that induced tumors only in one gender in NTP 2-year cancer bioassay. Our evaluation shows that oxidative stress, although frequently reported for both male- and female-specific rat carcinogens, was mentioned significantly more in literature concerning male-specific rat carcinogens. Literature analysis of testosterone and estradiol showed the same pattern. Tox21 high-throughput assay results, although showing only weak association of oxidative stress-related processes for male- and female-specific rat carcinogens, provide additional support. We also analyzed the literature concerning 26 established human carcinogens (IARC group 1). Oxidative stress was more frequently reported for the majority of these carcinogens, and the Tox21 data resembled that of male-specific rat carcinogens. Thus, our data, based on about 600000 scientific abstracts and Tox21 screening assays, suggest a link between male-specific carcinogens, testosterone and oxidative stress. This implies that a different cellular response to oxidative stress in men and women may be a critical factor in explaining the greater cancer susceptibility observed in men. Although the IARC carcinogens are classified as human carcinogens, their classification largely based on epidemiological evidence from male cohorts, which raises the question whether carcinogen classifications should be gender specific.

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