Chemotherapy Side Effects in Women vs Men: Broader Range, More Severe

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A patients receives regular chemotherapy treatment.
A patients receives regular chemotherapy treatment.
The following article features coverage from the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) 2018 meeting. Click here to read more news highlights from ESMO 2018.

Female patients experience a broader range of chemotherapy side effects compared with their male counterparts, according to the results of a study presented at the European Society of Medical Oncology (ESMO) 2018 Congress. 

The study researchers analyzed pooled data from 4 randomized controlled clinical trials that evaluated first line chemotherapy regimens for patients with advanced oesophagogastric cancer in the United Kingdom. The study encompassed a total of 1654 patients, 80% men and 20% women. Although there were no overall differences between the rates of chemotherapy toxicity between men and men there were notable differences at the individual level. 

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Women were more likely to experience higher rates of severe nausea and vomiting (89.3% vs 78.3% of men), at higher severity levels (grade 3 or higher for 16.7% of women vs 9.5% of men). Women were also more susceptible than men to diarrhea (53.8% vs 46.9%), mouth ulceration (49.5% vs 40.7%), and hair loss (81.4% vs 74.3%). However a higher percentage of male patients (49.3%) experienced peripheral neuropathy, resulting in loss of sensation compared with female patients (42.6%).  

“Whilst there is not enough data here to support alternative chemotherapy dosing strategies for men and women, it is useful for clinicians to be aware of such findings in order to refine their treatment in other ways,” remarked study author Michael Davidson, from Royal Marsden Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, in London, England. Understanding that women are more prone to certain side effects may help to create more tailored education materials that empower the patient to report problems early, and doctors to introduce timely and supportive measures. 


Davidson M, Wagner AD, Kouvelakis K, et al. Influence of sex on chemotherapy efficacy and toxicity in oesophagogastric (OG) cancer: a pooled analysis of 4 randomised trials. Poster presentation at: ESMO 2018 Congress; October 19-23, 2018; Munich, Germany. 

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