Under-representation of women in high-impact published clinical cancer research


  • Presented in preliminary form at the American Society of Clinical Oncology 44th Annual Meeting, Chicago, Illinois, May 30–June 3, 2008.



Adequate representation of women in research has been deemed essential.


Cancer research published in 8 journals in 2006 was reviewed. The percentage of women among study participants was compared with the proportion expected from population-based estimates of sex-specific cancer incidence, using binomial tests. Differences were assessed in sex distribution of participants by funding source, author sex, and focus of research with the Student t test, and in a linear regression model controlling for cancer type.


A total of 1534 cancer research articles were identified, of which 661 (representing 1,096,098 participants) were prospective clinical studies and were analyzed further. For all 7 non-sex–specific cancer types assessed, the majority of studies analyzed included a lower proportion of women than the proportion of women among patients having cancer of that type in the general population. Among studies focusing on cancer treatment, women constituted a significantly lower overall proportion of the participants in the analyzed studies than expected for 6 of 7 non-sex–specific cancer types (P < .001). Among non-sex–specific studies, the mean percentage of participants who were women was 38.8%. Non-sex–specific studies reporting government funding had a higher percentage of female participants (mean 41.3% vs 36.9%; P = .005). In a regression model controlling for cancer type, lack of government funding (P = .03) and focus on cancer treatment (P = .03) were found to be independent significant predictors of a lower percentage of female participants.


Women were under-represented as participants in recently published, high-impact studies of non-sex–specific cancers. Studies that received government funding included a higher proportion of female subjects. Cancer 2009. © 2009 American Cancer Society.