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Researchers have found yet another way that men and women differ. Melanoma, the most-serious skin cancer, affects the sexes differently.
Men are more likely to die of melanoma than women. This is true at any age. White adolescent males and young adult men are about twice as likely to die of melanoma as are white females of the same age.
By age 50, men are also more likely than women to develop melanoma. This number jumps by age 65, making men 2 times as likely as women of the same age to get melanoma. By age 80, men are 3 times more likely than women in that age group to develop melanoma.
Why melanoma seems to strike men harder
One reason may be that men know less about skin cancer. A survey conducted by the American Academy of Dermatology in 2016 found that fewer men than women knew the following facts:
|Fact||Men who knew this is true||Women who knew this is true|
|There is no such thing as a healthy tan.||56%||76%|
|A base tan cannot protect you from the sun's harmful rays.||54%||70%|
|Skin cancer can develop on skin that gets intermittent or little sun.||56%||65%|
With less knowledge, it’s natural that men are less likely to protect their skin from the sun.
We also know that women apply sunscreen more often than men. Women also use makeup and other cosmetics that offer SPF. So sun protection seems to play a role in why melanoma strikes men harder.
Sun protection alone, however, doesn’t seem to account for the differences.
Researchers believe that a major cause may lie in men’s skin. We know that men’s skin differs from women’s skin. Men have thicker skin with less fat beneath. A man’s skin also contains more collagen and elastin, fibers that give the skin firmness and keep it tight.
Research shows that these differences make men’s skin more likely to be damaged by the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. A study conducted in the Netherlands found that men’s skin reacted more intensely to UV rays than did women’s skin. A separate study reached the same conclusion.
Research also shows that a women’s skin may be better at repairing the damage caused by UV rays.
Sun protection can lower men’s risk of getting melanoma
While sun protection alone cannot explain why men are hit harder, we know that it can reduce the risk of getting melanoma.
Men who dislike applying lotions and creams can still protect their skin from the sun. When outdoors, even on cloudy days, men can:
- Put on a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.
- Seek shade whenever possible.
- Wear long sleeves and pants when possible.
- Stay out of the sun when the sun’s rays are strongest (from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.)
It’s a proven fact that sunscreen also helps. Sunscreen can protect skin not covered by clothing.
To encourage men to wear sunscreen, there are sunscreens formulated just for men. To get the needed sun protection, the AAD recommends wearing sunscreen that offers SPF 30, broad-spectrum protection, and water resistance.
Skin exams can reduce men’s risk of dying of melanoma
Found early, melanoma is highly treatable. Skin self-exams can help men find skin cancer early. Of course, it helps to have your partner check hard-to-see areas like your backside.
Getting your partner involved can also make skin exams more fun. With a partner’s help, a skin exam may even become something that you look forward to.
You’ll find a video that shows how a partner can help you check your skin for signs of skin cancer at Skin self-exam: How to do.
If you’ve never been screened for skin cancer, now is an excellent time to start. Screenings can help find early signs of skin cancer.
The AAD offers free SPOTme® skin cancer screenings. Most take place in the spring. If you don’t find a free screening in your area, you can sign up for an e-mail alert, which will let you know when a screening is scheduled in your area.
You can find out whether a screening is being offered in your area at Find a free SPOTme® skin cancer screening.
Men: It’s time to strike back vs. melanoma
While you cannot change how your skin reacts to the sun, sun protection can reduce your risk of getting melanoma. You can also strike back with skin self-exams and skin cancer screenings. These can help you find melanoma early when melanoma is highly treatable.
American Academy of Dermatology. “Survey: Men’s skin cancer knowledge lags behinds women’s.” News release issued April 28, 2016. Last accessed February 28, 2017.
American Academy of Dermatology. Skin cancer fact sheet. Last accessed February 28, 2017.
American Cancer Society. “Cancer Facts & Figures 2017.” Last accessed February 28, 2017.
Gamba CS, Clarke CA, et al. “Melanoma survival disadvantage in young, non-Hispanic white males compared with females.” JAMA Dermatol. 2013;149(8):912-20.
Liu-Smith F, Farhat AM, et al. “Sex differences in the association of cutaneous melanoma incidence rates and geographic ultraviolet light exposure.” J Am Acad Dermatol 2017;76:499-505.