Developments In Cancer Research Regarding Women
May 30, 2012

Developments In Cancer Research Regarding Women

Connie K. Ho for

It´s a known fact that males and females suffer inequalities. First, it was in school. Then, it was in the workplace. Even though times are changing and women are gaining more power, they still have the short end of the stick when it comes to cancer treatment and fertility. New research has come out regarding the causes of cancer and the effects of cancer treatment for women. A new study by a Swedish team of researchers, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, found that women were less likely than males to receive information on how cancer treatments can lead to infertility.

The findings of the experiment showed that the majority of male participants were given information regarding the treatment´s impact on fertility (80 percent) and fertility preservation (68 percent). As a result, more than half of the male subjects (54 percent) decided to bank frozen sperm. With women participants, less than half (48 percent) were informed about the treatment impact on fertility and 14 percent received information about fertility preservation. As a result, only seven women (2 percent of the subjects) participated in fertility preservation such as in vitro fertilization to create embryos and then freeze or bank the eggs.

"Even in cases when fertility preservation could not be performed, patients – and in particular, women – should be informed about their risk of decreased fertility and their risk of entering menopause prematurely," wrote senior researcher Claudia Lampic, of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, in an email to Reuters Health.

The project focused on determining female and male cancer survivors´ perspectives of fertility-related information and the use of fertility preservation with cancer treatments. Participants of the project included cancer survivors who were diagnosed from 2003 to 2007; they were between the ages of 18 and 45 when they were diagnosed with acute leukemia, lymphoma, female breast cancer, ovarian cancer, or testicular cancer and they were treated with chemotherapy. 484 survivors of the 810 participants completed a questionnaire, with a 60 percent response rate in the experiment.

The authors of the study believe that the results show that there is a need to provide fertility-related information for female patients with cancer to increase their opportunities to make informed decisions regarding cancer treatment and options for future reproductively.

According to Reuters, some chemotherapy drugs can be harmful for women´s eggs or the sperm-producing ability of males. Radiation therapy can also have negative effects on reproductive organs and the brain. Likewise, hormonal drugs for the breast, prostate, and other types of cancer can be damaging for the body.

In other related news, Danish researchers publicized a report that described how women who worked at least three night shifts a week for approximately six years had a greater chance of developing breast cancer. The effects were even greater in females who stated that they were “morning” people, but were given late night shifts to work; they were four times more likely to develop breast cancer than a female who didn´t work nights. Females who described themselves as “night owls” and had a tendency to stay up late reportedly were twice as likely to develop breast cancer as those who didn´t work shifts at night.

"We observed a neutral risk for breast cancer associated with any duration of night shift work among women with only one or two shifts per week,” wrote lead author Dr. Johnni Hansen of the Institute of Cancer Epidemiology in Denmark in the Journal of Occupational Health. "This is consistent with the observation that one or two night shifts will not change the timing of melatonin production and thereby not initiate circadian disruption."

The study looked at the medical records of 18,500 women who were employed by the Danish army between 1964 and 1999. The researchers contacted 210 women out of 218 who were diagnosed with breast cancer between 1999 to 2003 and who were still living in 2005 and 2006. The women who were contacted were then matched with 899 women of the same age, who worked for the Danish Army but who had not been diagnosed with breast cancer. 141 participants with breast cancer and 551 who did not have the disease completed a questionnaire regarding their family, lifestyle, sun bathing practices, and whether they had taken hormone replacement therapy and contraceptives.

The results showed that disruption to the body clock, the changes in light contrast on the hormone melatonin, and sleep deprivation could contribute to the development of cancer.

“We know that shift work is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer, and this study further supports this view. The exact reasons are still not known and it may be that night shifts themselves are not the only cause, as shift work can increase the likelihood of other lifestyle risk factors, such as lack of exercise,” said Dr. Rachel Greig, Senior Policy Officer at Breakthrough Breast cancer, in an article by the Telegraph. "All women should cut back on alcohol, get regular physical activity and maintain a healthy diet to reduce their risk of breast cancer."

Lastly, the Guardian reports that the various studies have prompted the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) of the United Kingdom to commission research that looks at the connections between cancer and working late night shifts. The findings of the HSE research could affect the discussion on whether Britain should compensate women who work longer shifts, a practice that has been done in Denmark. The research is expected to be completed by the end of 2015 and will include information from the Million Woman Study, the HSE, and the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC).