Why Men and Women React Differently to Cancer Gene

Researchers at Cleveland Clinic discovered that an androgen receptor is found in both prostate and breast cancers, yet has opposite effects on these diseases.


We always knew there were differences between the sexes, but who knew it also affected how we respond to various cancers. The gene – known as an androgen receptor (AR) – promotes cancer growth when the gene is “turned on” in prostate cancer.

The opposite is true in breast cancer, where the AR gene promotes cancer growth when the gene is “turned off.” This is usually the case after menopause, when AR production ceases in women, and may be one explanation for the higher risk of breast cancer at that time.

What’s the difference in treatment?

So doctors have to treat prostate and breast cancers with completely opposite approaches to AR. When treating prostate cancer, the strategy should be to block AR; in breast cancer, the strategy should be to support AR production.

Researchers from Cleveland Clinic’s Lerner Research Institute, concluded that their work explains why prostate cancer progression is associated with increased AR expression (and a common prostate cancer treatment strategy involves blocking AR), while most breast cancers occur post-menopause, after AR production has ceased (making AR supplementation a strategy for treating breast cancer).

A glass of red wine might help

Interestingly, Dr Charis Eng, one of the lead researchers, has also made a link with why we are encouraged to drink red wine as a healthy daily preventive – but in this case only for men.

It contains antioxidants, especially resveratrol and proanthocyanidins and these are believed to be responsible for the health benefits of red wine. Proanthocyanidins may reduce oxidative damage in the body and either as red wine or a resveratrol supplement may also help prevent heart disease and cancer.

The role of progesterone

I don’t believe John Lee ever recommended a daily glass of red wine, but natural progesterone still remains high on the list of sensible prevention measures to minimize cancer risk for both men and women. Certainly it is clear that more men are becoming oestrogen dominant, and the sight of ‘man boobs’ is not uncommon as they are exposed to oestrogen through the food chain and water supply.

While there has been no specific research done with regards to natural progesterone usage in men, there have been interesting reports from patients with prostate cancer which has been diagnosed both by blood test and biopsy. These patients have found that, as a result of using natural progesterone for about a year, the levels of PSA (Prostatic Specific Antigen) in their blood have decreased to normal levels.

The mechanism for this apparently beneficial effect of natural progesterone is not clear but may relate to progesterone being a precursor of testosterone. Men as they get older have a tendency to produce less testosterone and more di-hydrotestosterone, which seems to have an over stimulating effect on cells.

Progesterone could have the effect of neutralizing the di-hydrotestosterone, which would thus help to maintain testosterone levels. It is also thought that progesterone may have an effect on the genetic coding of some cells, and in this prevents the development of abnormal cells.