Did you know that one of the most common cancers in men under the age of 50 is melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer? In fact, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, men are more likely to develop and die from melanoma than women. So what explains this strange pattern?
Understanding the Link Between Gender and Melanoma
While the exact reason that men are more likely to contract melanoma isn’t certain, here are some reasons researchers are using to explain this discrepancy:
Time Spent in the Sun - Men typically spend more time throughout their life in the sun than women, which can increase the risk of developing melanoma.
Differences in Skin - Men have thicker skin with less fat beneath and tend to have more collagen in their skin than women. Research shows that these differences make men’s skin more susceptible to receive more damage from the same amount of UV sunlight. Dr. Ida Orengo, a dermatologist with Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center, explains that other small studies also point to how women’s skin seems to re-heal the damaged skin better than men.
Estrogen - One study discovered a potential link between estrogen and an increased immune response against melanomas. People with higher estrogen levels tend to respond better to treatment and have a higher chance of survival. Scientists discovered this connection exists in both women and obese men, both of whom are more likely to have high levels of estrogen.
Lack of Knowledge. “Most skin cancers don’t have a symptom – that’s why people ignore things in their skin because it doesn’t hurt,” said Orengo. “Lack of knowledge in terms of how to approach screening could be a factor also. Most people first see a dermatologist when it’s too late – after a lesion is ulcerating or bleeding.”
Steps to Prevent Late-Stage Melanoma
Preventing melanoma from developing into a later-stage disease that’s harder to treat is easier than you might think. Check out these steps:
Limit exposure to Ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Wear sunblock before going outside, avoid areas with direct sunlight, and wear protective clothing. Dr. Orengo also recommends a body wash infused with SPF 30 like KLENSKIN and using a detergent like Sun Guard, which offers UV protection for up to 30 washes. These options are ideal for people who don’t like greasy sunscreen running down their face during the hot summer months.
Regularly perform skin self-exams. Even if you have been applying sunscreen for most of your adult life, Dr. Orengo says that having just one blistering sunburn during childhood or adolescence can nearly double a person’s chance of developing melanoma and experiencing five or more blistering sunburns between ages 15 and 20 increases one’s melanoma risk by 80%. It is extremely important for people in the high-risk category - those with fair skin, light-colored hair, blue eyes, and a family history - to do a self-examination every 2-3 months and visit their dermatologist once a year for a skin exam. To do a self-examination, find a floor-length mirror, a hand-held mirror, and a partner and look for any markings on the body that reflect the ABCDEs of melanoma.
Asymmetry - One side doesn’t match the other.
Border - The spot has uneven or undefined edges.
Color - The spot contains multiple colors.
Diameter - The spot will likely be at least 6mm in diameter (about the size of a pencil eraser).