Why this form of skin cancer strikes men harder than women

Whether you’re a man or woman, you can lower your risk of developing skin cancers, including melanoma, simply by having an annual skin check with a dermatologist and by practicing sun safety. (Photo: Getty Creative)
Whether you’re a man or woman, you can lower your risk of developing skin cancers, including melanoma, simply by having an annual skin check with a dermatologist and by practicing sun safety. (Photo: Getty Creative)

May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month and May 4 is Melanoma Monday. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, and approximately 9,500 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with skin cancer every day. Yahoo Life is driving awareness with this expert-driven article to educate our audience about melanoma risk factors and prevention.

Skin cancer is the most common cancer, with one in five Americans developing some form of it by the age of 70, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. While early detection ensures a 99 percent five-year survival rate of this usually slow-growing cancer, melanoma remains the most fatal form. Recent studies show that how it develops can vary significantly if you’re a woman or a man. Awareness of these differences can help you outwit the dangers. 

Melanoma tends to occur in different areas. While men often see melanoma on the head, neck and trunk, it’s far more common for women to see it on their legs, according to this study published in JAMA Dermatology. Why is this? While it’s likely a combination of genetic and environmental factors, it’s been thought by some experts that a difference in clothing preferences may be at play, says Rutherford, N.J.  dermatologist Aanand Geria, MD. “We also know that women are genetically prone to having more moles on the legs, while men tend to have more moles on the head, neck and torso,” he says.

Women get melanoma at a younger age. In the same study, women experienced more melanoma under the age of 45. Yet by the age of 65, men become twice as likely as women to get melanoma. Experts believe this may be due to different root causes of melanoma for women and men. “Melanomas occurring at a young age are generally considered more influenced by genes, whereas later life melanomas are thought to be related to cumulative sun exposure,” explains Geria. In the study, the age at which men overtake women in melanoma cases occurs earliest in sunny Australia (45 to 49 years old) and latest in cloudier and cooler Denmark (65 to 69 years old). For both sexes, it’s important to know that the need for sun protection is vitally important in childhood, as just one blistering youth sunburn more than doubles the risk of developing melanoma later on, adds Geria.

Men have thicker skin with more collagen and elastin, which would seem to sound more protective — but this skin make up means that men have less fat beneath their skin than women. Research shows this composition actually makes men’s skin more likely to incur damage by the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays.

Male skin is more susceptible to sun. Sun-safe behaviors like avoiding midday sun and wearing hats and sunscreen are precautions women are more likely to engage in than men, according to the data. This compounds the fact that men’s skin also differs from women’s skin. Men have thicker skin with more collagen and elastin, which would seem to sound more protective — but this skin make up means that men have less fat beneath their skin than women. Research shows this composition actually makes men’s skin more likely to incur damage by the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays, the AAD reports. 

Men are more likely to die of melanoma. While it’s been thought this was because of social reasons — men tend to work outside in the sun and get more UV exposure, use less sunscreen and clothing protection as well as visit doctors less frequently than women  — a recent study published by the National Institutes of Health suggests women also inherently fight melanoma better because of their hormonal makeup. “It’s thought that the hormone estrogen actually increases the body’s immune response against melanoma,” explains Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research at The Mount Sinai Hospital Department of Dermatology. Doctors have long observed that female sex hormones appear linked to control of skin pigmentation (for example, many pregnant women experience the patchy darkening of skin known as melasma with the increase of estrogen), which may help explain why the higher presence of estrogen in women helps hinder melanoma development. 

Married men have a better prognosis than single men. In a study published by JAMA Dermatology, married men had significantly better melanoma treatment results than single men. Early detection means that skin cancer, including melanoma, can be completely removed and cured, says Zeichner — and married men likely fare far better because of the support of a spouse. “More than half of my male patients tell me they came to the office for a body check because their wives made them,” says Zeichner. A typical exam takes just 10 minutes, but remember that they are recommended for both women and men, says Zeichner. “Men may be at higher risk, but women are not off the hook — it’s just as important for men to support and encourage women to exercise smart sun protection and get their own medical care.”

Early detection means that skin cancer, including melanoma, can be completely removed and cured — and married men likely fare far better because of the support of a spouse.

More women wear sunscreen daily, but more men apply it correctly. RealSelf’s 2020 Sun Safety Report found that while significantly more women than men wear sunscreen daily (16 percent of women versus 6  percent of men), men are far more likely to reapply sunscreen when they do wear it (53 percent of men versus 35 percent of women). The AAD recommends that when outside, you should reapply sunscreen every two hours or after swimming or sweating. A common issue is that women don’t want to reapply sunscreen over makeup; facial sunscreen mists (like Seriously Fab Zinc It Over) can help ease reapplication. You can also press mineral powders containing sunscreen, instead of brushing it on, for better coverage, suggests skincare formulator Rachael Pontillo

You can’t control your genes but you can control your exposure. Whether you’re a man or woman, you can lower your risk of developing skin cancers, including melanoma, simply by having an annual skin check with a dermatologist and by practicing sun safety. Wear sunscreen with at least SPF 30 that is specifically labeled “broad spectrum,” and apply enough to get the level of protection on the bottle – this means a quarter size for your face and shot glass size for your body, says Zeichner. Avoid the sun during peak hours of 10AM to 2PM, sit in the shade when you can, and wear protective hats, sunglasses, and clothing, he adds. “Most importantly, look at your skin – get into your birthday suit in a well-lit room and check your nooks and crannies once a month. If you notice a new or changing spot, get it checked by a board-certified dermatologist right away.”

About Linda J. Picard

Check Also

Clothing Kinds

Providing all men and women worldwide the most effective of cosmetics, haircare and perfume by way of quality, efficacy and security. Fashion is a guide to a mode that people can create on their very own. How you incorporate the latest vogue in your wardrobe in order that it fits your persona is de facto …