Women Are Infrequently First or Corresponding Authors in Collaborative Group Publications in Oncology


Key Points

  • Women accounted for a distinct minority of first and corresponding authors of publications between 2001 and 2011.
  • Women are more frequently first and corresponding authors for government-sponsored publications than for non–government-sponsored publications.

As reported in a research letter in JAMA Internal Medicine, Sun et al studied the frequency with which women lead clinical trial publications from organized collaborative groups in oncology. They found that women are very infrequently lead or corresponding authors, with the percentages not changing significantly between 2001 and 2011, and that they are more frequently lead and corresponding authors on government sponsored vs non-government-sponsored publications.

Study Details

The investigators performed a literature search to identify collaborative clinical trials reported between 2001 and 2011 that had authorship by a formally named collaborative group, had a randomized controlled trial or clinical trial designation by PubMed, and that examined therapeutic intervention in human patients with cancer.

Overall Trends

Among the 2,498 eligible articles identified, men were the first authors for 1,913 (76.6%) and corresponding authors for 2,012 (80.5%). Between 2001 and 2011, women were first authors for 16.3% to 26.4% of articles and corresponding authors for 14.7% to 24.0% of articles, with no significant changes over time (P = .54 and P = .69, respectively, for trends).

Authorship of Government- and Industry-Sponsored Publications

Over the study period, either industry or the U.S. government sponsored 57.3% of studies. Industry sponsorship increased from 35.8% of articles in 2001 to 63.0% in 2011 (P < .001 for trend), with a significant increase in miscellaneous sponsorship (eg, philanthropic and nonprofit foundations or no or no reported sponsorship) from 17.0% to 33.6% also occurring over this time (P < .001 for trend). U.S. government sponsorship peaked between 2005 and 2008, reaching approximately 35% in 2008, and then declined to approximately 20% by 2011.

Women were first authors for 29.0% of all U.S. government–sponsored publications vs 18.7% of all publications not sponsored by the U.S. government (P < .001) and were corresponding authors for 29.3% vs 15.1% (P < .001). Women were first authors for 18.9% of all industry-sponsored publications vs 23.0% of publications not sponsored by industry (P = .02) and corresponding authors for 15.8% vs 20.6% (P = .003).

The investigators noted that these results expand on their prior finding that women accounted for 33% of first authors and 20% of senior authors of original cancer research articles in eight major journals in 2006.

The investigators concluded: “Although women were 46% of oncology trainees and 45% of biomedical research fellows-in-training in 2013, they represent only 28.4% of oncologists and 20% to 29% of academic researchers in the United States. Gender bias and other challenges may explain these differences. Addressing barriers to the academic advancement of female oncologists may facilitate equity and improve collaborative research efforts, given the value that diversity brings to team endeavors.”

Reshma Jagsi, MD, DPhil, of University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, is the corresponding author for the JAMA Internal Medicine research letter.

For full disclosures of the study authors, visit

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.