When you think of men’s health risks, skin cancer probably isn’t at the top of the list. But it should be. Skin cancer is incredibly common, and the rates of the deadliest form, melanoma, are rising—for reasons scientists don’t totally understand. Men are more likely than women to be diagnosed with melanoma and much more likely to die of it. Which means that men need to do more to protect themselves from the sun.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in American men, and the rate of new cases is rising.
More than two million Americans develop skin cancer each year. Most cases involve one of two disfiguring but rarely fatal forms—basal and squamous cell carcinomas. The deadliest form of skin cancer, melanoma, is also common, afflicting about 25 per 100,000 men between 2006 and 2010, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This makes melanoma the fifth most common cancer among men in the U.S. This hasn’t always been the case. According to the National Cancer Institute, over the past 35 years the rate of new melanoma cases among American adults has tripled. The reason for these trends is elusive, as are strategies for preventing this deadly cancer, but you can control some risk factors.
2. Men are much more likely than women to die of melanoma.
Melanoma is significantly more common in men than women: the American Cancer Society estimates that 45,000 new cases of melanoma were diagnosed in U.S. men in 2013, compared to 31,600 in women—about a 42% higher incidence. What’s even more dramatic, and troubling, is the difference in deaths. Almost twice as many men die of melanoma every year: 6,280 men versus 3,200 women in 2013. The mortality rate in men, unfortunately, has only been increasing: from 2.6 deaths per 100,000 in 1975 to 4.1 per 100,000 in 2010. Melanoma is one of only three cancers with a rising mortality rate for men.
3. Skin cancer awareness and prevention is lacking among men.
In a recent analysis of government survey data, men were more likely than women to report having being sunburned in the previous year. Furthermore, according to a recent survey by the Skin Cancer Foundation, a shocking 70% of men do not know the warning signs of melanoma. More than half of those polled said they were unlikely to ask their doctor for a skin exam. The same survey also found that almost half of the male respondents said they had not used a sunscreen in the past year. And when they did, they most likely did not follow the guidelines for proper use. For instance, almost 80% did not know that they should apply a full ounce of sunscreen each time. Moreover, many men believe that one application a day is enough, even though the label directions call for reapplying sunscreen every two hours, and after swimming or excessive sweating.
4. What you should do: Educate yourself about skin cancer, use proper sun protection and get checked out regularly by a dermatologist.
The most important steps are to know the warning signs of skin cancer, check your skin regularly for new moles that are tender or growing, and ask your primary care doctor how often you should see a dermatologist. While the exact cause of melanoma is not known, researchers have established that the risk factors include family history, indoor tanning, the number of moles on a person’s skin, having fair skin or freckles, ultraviolet radiation and severe sunburn.
You can control three of these risk factors: indoor tanning, exposure to UV radiation and sunburns. Reduce exposure by staying in shaded areas during the hours of most intense sunshine. When working outdoors, the best way to protect yourself is with clothing and hats. For exposed skin, use an effective sunscreen, make sure you apply the recommended amount and reapply as necessary.
Don’t rely on sunscreen too much. Many sunscreens don’t protect you from all skin damage caused by UV radiation, and some studies have found that people who rely primarily on sunscreen for protection end up with more sunburns, which are a risk factor for melanoma.