It’s well-known that different kinds of cancer can affect certain populations differently than others. Men make up less than 1 percent of all breast cancer cases, for example.
But what about skin cancer? Women and men are both exposed to the sun at similar rates in their lifetime, but young adult men are twice as likely to die from melanoma compared with women of the same ages. And as they get older, men are two to three times more likely to develop the disease in the first place. Researchers at the Cancer Prevention Institute in California found white men over 50 accounted for nearly 60 percent of all of the reported melanoma deaths.
While scientists believe behavioral differences among the sexes may be part of the answer, biology seems to play a larger role in making skin cancer so deadly for men.
Researchers in the Netherlands have found that men’s skin is more easily damaged by ultraviolet rays. Men’s skin is thicker, with less fat underneath for protection. It contains more collagen and elastin fibers that give skin firmness, which may conversely make it more susceptible to sun damage.
Men can still reduce their risks of melanoma by following the example of their female counterparts, who apply sunscreen more often than men and wear cosmetics that offer sun protection.
Women can play a role in educating men about the dangers of melanoma, as 2016 polling by the American Academy of Dermatology showed women overwhelmingly knew more about sun damage and skin disease. All it would take is for the men to listen more to the women in their lives. Scientists are still working on that challenge.