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A stronger immune response may help protect women from SCC

Photo by: Dermanonymous via Wikimedia Commons

Early research suggests that a stronger immune response in women may provide them with additional protection against some skin cancers.

These findings come from a paper published in Clinical Cancer Research (June 2021; 27(11)).

In a press release from the University of Manchester, where the research was conducted, investigators note that men have more skin squamous cell carcinoma (cSCC) than women, and the tumours in males are more aggressive.

This study was conducted to evaluate if the difference might be linked to differences in exposure to sunlight or other carcinogens.

Investigators experimented with murine models, exposing them to dimethylbenz(a)anthracene (DMBA). They also examined sun-damaged human keratinocytes from male and female donors, and compared patient records from 931 individuals with cutaneous squamous cell carcinomas (cSCCs).

The animal model research found that male mice developed more aggressive tumours than females, despite receiving identical exposures.

Studying the donated human epidermal cells confirmed that women’s skin activated immune-cancer fighting pathways and immune cells at sites damaged by sunlight. The researchers also found that CD4 and CD8 immune cells were twice as abundant in the skin samples from women compared to those from men.

Data from the patient records showed that while women commonly had a more mild form of cSCC compared to men, immunocompromised women developed cSCC in a way more similar to men.

“It has long been assumed that men are at higher risk of getting non-melanoma skin cancer than women” said study author Dr. Amaya Viros in the release. Dr. Viros is a Wellcome Clinician Scientist at the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute in Manchester, U.K.

“Other lifestyle and behavioural differences between men, such as the type of work or exposure to the sun, are likely to be significant,” she said.

“However, we also identify for the first time the possible biological reasons, rooted in the immune system, which explains why men may have more severe disease.”

“Although this is early research, we believe the immune response is sex-biased in the most common form of skin cancer, and highlights that female immunity may offer greater protection than male immunity,” said Dr. Viros.


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