Study Highlights Need for Female Representation in Oncology Research

Despite positive trends, researchers found that substantial differences in the representation of gender in oncology publications by author role, article type, citation count, and credentials persist.

Despite positive trends, substantial differences in the representation of gender in oncology publications by author role, article type, citation count, and credentials persist, according to a study published in Cancer.1

Given the positive correlations related to female-female mentorship and collaboration, the researchers suggested that their work supports the need for increased female representation. 

“Fostering more women in oncology research will benefit female representation at many levels of academia and improve productivity, collaboration, and recruitment, especially in technical fields such as radiation and surgical oncology,” the authors wrote. 

The researchers conducted a bibliometric analysis of Annals of Surgical Oncology, Cancer, International Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology, Physics (IJROBP), JAMA Oncology, and Journal of Clinical Oncologyin 1990, 2000, 2010, and 2017. The full name and degree credentials per author (i.e. first or senior author), article type, publication year, and citation metrics were collected, and the first names were used to identify the gender of the author. 

Overall, across the 9,189 articles identified, female representation rose between 1990 and 2017 (first authors: 17.7% in 1990, 36.6% in 2017; senior authors: 11.7% in 1990, 28.5% in 2017). However, for the 50 most cited article per year, women comprised a smaller percent of first (26.5%) and senior (19.9%) authors. Moreover, the average citation count was higher for male first (44.8 per article) and senior (47.1) authors compared to female first (39.7) and senior (44.1) authors. 

In regard to male senior authors, the first author was more likely male (71.4% male; 25.0% female), while with female senior authors, first authors were 50.2% male and 47.6% female. Specifically, IJROBP had the lowest total female representation among first (25.1%) and senior (16.7%) authors. 

Notably, the women evaluated in the study had more MDs with master’s degrees, whereas the men held more MDs only and more MDs with PhDs. 

“It may become necessary to more deliberately facilitate interactions that will allow for female–female collaboration, to encourage female trainees or early investigators to seek out mentors with adequate bandwidth for high- quality mentorship, as well as to apportion time in female leaders’ schedules, specifically for mentorship,” the authors wrote. “If not addressed, this may contribute to continued high male representation in oncologic societies, as cancer center directors, and as leaders of clinical teams.”

However, this study was limited by the correct ascertainment of an author’s sex or preferred gender, which can be challenging to obtain for less common, unisex, or incorrectly disambiguated names. Further, not all individuals define their gender as corresponding to their biological sex, so some individuals may have been misclassified. 

In an editorial, Narjust Duma, MD, from the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center, praised the study authors for their research and indicated that their findings highlight the necessity for better female representation.2

“Perpetuating gender bias is unethical, and the support of publishing companies, editorial boards, medical societies, and male colleagues will be critical to fight both conscious and unconscious biases that perpetuate gender inequalities in medicine, particularly in scientific publishing,” Duma wrote. “We can and we will decrease gender bias in medicine as long as we work together – fighting gender bias is not just a woman’s job. Together, we rise!”


1. Dalal NH, Chino F, Williamson H, Beasley GM, Salama AKS, Palta M. Mind the Gap: Gendered Publication Trends in Oncology. Cancer. doi:10.1002/cncr.32818. 

2. Duma N. Gender Differences in Publication Rates in Oncology: Looking at the Past, Present, and Future. Cancer. doi:10.1002/cncr.32819.