How Does a Patient’s Sex Determine Outcomes in Glioblastoma?

According to a story from The Conversation, scientists have determined that sex plays a significant role in outcomes when it comes to treating the rare and deadly brain cancer glioblastoma. These findings suggest that it may be possible to develop therapies that are based upon the differences in disease behavior and treatment response that are observed between men and women.

About Glioblastoma

Glioblastoma is a rare brain cancer. It is also the most aggressive cancer to originate in the brain. It is characterized by its rapid progression and poor response to most treatments. In most cases, the cause of glioblastoma is not known. A small number of cases evolve from another type of tumor called an astrocytoma. Risk factors for glioblastoma include genetic disorders such as Turcot syndrome and neurofibromatosis, exposure to pesticides, smoking, a career in petroleum refining or rubber manufacture. Symptoms of glioblastoma include personality changes, headaches, memory loss, seizures, vomiting, and nausea; patients may lose consciousness in late stages. Treatment approaches include anticonvulsants, steroids, chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. While a small number of patients can survive for several years, treatment is often ineffective, with the tumor relapsing quickly. Five year survival rate is only three percent. To learn more about glioblastoma, click here.

Sex Differences and Glioblastoma

Men are more likely to get glioblastoma than women. When women do get the disease, they tend to survive for six months longer on average. So what makes men more vulnerable to glioblastoma? What implications does this have for treatment?

The researchers found that routine treatment approaches such as chemotherapy and radiation were more likely to be effective in women. In women, these therapies were able to slow the growth of glioblastoma tumors, but in men they had no effect at all. They also found that low expression of the CCNB2 gene in males was related to longer survival and low expression of the PCDHB gene was associated with longer survival in women. These findings alone suggest that it may be useful to study the impact of a treatment in men and women separately.

The CCNB2 gene plays a role in controlling cell division, whereas the PCDHB gene was important in regulating the ability of a cancer cell to migrate to another area of the brain. This suggests that drugs that control cell division would be more useful in male patients and drugs that control the distant migration of cells could be more useful for women. Low expression of these genes also allowed chemotherapy to be more effective.

Taking into account sex differences when it comes to treating diseases like glioblastoma could ultimately lead to the development of sex-specific therapies that could improve overall patient outcomes.


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