TUESDAY, Sept. 29, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- A new study suggests that estrogen or other hormones could help younger women with colorectal cancer live longer than men with the disease.
"We've known for a while that estrogen prevents colorectal cancer, but this is the first study to suggest it may improve outcomes once you have colorectal cancer," said study co-author Dr. Heinz-Josef Lenz, co-director of gastrointestinal oncology and colorectal cancer at the University of Southern California/Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, in a statement.
Lenz and colleagues examined medical records of 52,882 patients who had metastatic colorectal cancer over a 16-year period. Women age 18 to 44 years lived an average of three months longer than men -- 17 months versus 14 months.
But the effect wasn't the same for older women. They survived for an average of seven months, compared to nine months for men.
Lenz thinks estrogen levels could be playing a role. Dr. James Abbruzzese, chair of gastrointestinal medical oncology at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, said in a statement that improvements in care may also be a factor: Those who were diagnosed after 2000 lived longer.
"In terms of the chemotherapy we have available, since 2000 the regimens employ more agents and have become much more aggressive. Therefore, it may be expected to inhibit normal hormonal cycles leading to lower hormonal levels in these women, so other factors may be playing a role as well. It may not just be hormones," Abbruzzese said.
The study findings were published Sept. 29 in the journal Clinical Cancer Research.
Learn more about colorectal cancer from the National Cancer Institute.