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Barcelona researchers show why men are more at risk of cancer

ISGlobal led study shows how loss of function of genes in Y chromosome makes males more vulnerable to tumors


17 January 2020 07:16 PM


ACN | Barcelona



That men are more susceptible to developing cancer than women is something that has been shown in numerous studies, but the reason for this difference has until now remained largely unknown.

A research group at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) has now identified one of the main biological mechanisms that cause men to be more at risk of developing cancer than women.

The study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute shows that the reason for the difference is due to a loss of function in certain genes in the Y sex chromosome, which only men have.

The researchers, who worked in conjunction with others in Barcelona's Pompeu Fabra University, Australia's Adelaide University and the Estonian Genome Center, studied the function of all genes in the Y chromosome in a number of cancers.

Data from 9,000 individuals

Using data taken from some 9,000 individuals, the results of the analysis showed that the probability of developing cancer goes up when function is lost in six key genes in the Y chromosome in various cells.

"Recent studies have shown that, when growing older, the cells of some men tend to completely lose the Y chromosome, which is fundamental for the sexual differentiation of the fetus," says the study's coordinator, Juan Ramón González.

"Despite the loss of the Y chromosome having previously been associated with a greater incidence of cancer, the causes of this relationship is not known, adds González, who is also the head of ISGlobal's Bioinformatics in Genetic Epidemiology.

Genes in both chromosomes

These six genes of the Y chromosome are involved in the regulation of the cell cycle, a process that, when it fails, can lead to the development of tumors. "Curiously, they're genes that have a copy in the X chromosome," says the study's main author Alejandro Cáceres.

"What's more, if the copy in the X chromosome mutates in the same cells, which has been shown to happen, the possible biological protection of these genes against cancer is completely lost," adds Cáceres.

Understanding the differences in cancer between men and women is crucial for developing personalized treatments. "Men not only suffer cancer more than women, but they also have a worse prognosis. In part, this is why men's life expectancy is lower," says González.

Catalan oncologist unlocks mysteries of metastasis

The latest study is the second this week involving Catalan researchers, after the results of a study under Catalan oncologist Joan Massagué showing how cancers spread through metastasis was published in the Nature Cancer journal.

Head of the Sloan Kettering Institute in New York, the research led by Massagué showed how the cells that initiate metastasis hijack the body's natural wound-healing abilities in order to spread throughout the body.


  • Operation on a patient with lung cancer at the Hospital de Sant Pau in October 2019 (courtesy of Hospital de Sant Pau)

  • Operation on a patient with lung cancer at the Hospital de Sant Pau in October 2019 (courtesy of Hospital de Sant Pau)