RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Even though most of us associate skin cancer with tanning-bed addictions and the pursuit of a summer glow among teens and younger women, it’s actually middle-aged white men who make up 50 percent of all melanoma-related deaths in the U.S. “Young women are more likely to be diagnosed with melanoma, and at ages 40 and 50, [diagnosis for women and men] starts to equalize. But after age 50, the disease is much more common in men,” says Alan Geller, MPH, RN, a senior research scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health and author of two studies published in the April issue of the Archives of Dermatology that called attention to this disturbing trend. “What we’re even more concerned about is that when you look at men who are diagnosed compared with women, men tend to do worse.”
THE DETAILS: Geller and his colleagues surveyed men between 40 and 88 years old who had been recently diagnosed with melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer. After asking the men questions about how their tumors were discovered, about their awareness of the disease, and how frequently they were examined (either by themselves or a doctor), researchers found that less than 20 percent were aware of the warning signs and less than 50 percent did self-examinations. The experts also found that the men who were more educated about the disease had thinner tumors, meaning that the disease had been detected in its earliest stages. Geller notes that early detection can lead to a 5-year survival rate of almost 100 percent. In a separate survey, he found that men whose tumors had been detected by a physician (rather than by themselves or a significant other) were also thinner and therefore more easily treatable.
WHAT IT MEANS: Be pushy when it comes to asking your doctor for skin examinations. “The squeaky wheel gets the oil,” he says. adding that it doesn’t necessarily mean making an appointment with a dermatologist. Geller points to studies that show men who were diagnosed with melanoma had actually visited a doctor at least once in the year prior to diagnosis. Simply asking their family doctor for a full-body skin exam could have lead to earlier detection, he says.
Here are some strategies for reducing skin cancer risk: