It’s a sobering reality that many men die of skin cancer. This year over 6,000 men in the U.S. are expected to die from melanoma, a number that has been increasing for years. In fact, if you’re a male baby boomer, you have twice the risk of dying from melanoma as your female counterparts. Melanoma is now the 5th most common cancer in men!

The sad fact is that many of these deaths are preventable. Michael Steppie, M.D., an Assistant Professor of Dermatology at the University of Central Florida, has written an excellent article in the most recent Skin Cancer Foundation Journal that elaborates on these issues. It’s not that men have a genetic weakness that results in more cases of deadly skin cancer. According to Dr. Steppie, the two reasons that more men than women die from skin cancer are:

1. Men do not protect their skin from the sun as well as do women.
2. Men do not have their skin checked regularly for skin cancer as well as do women.

Let’s look at the first reason – Men do not do as good of a job protecting their skin from the sun. As opposed to women who from a young age are told that they must avoid sun exposure in order to avoid wrinkles, men are outside receiving lots of sun. Women use sunscreen and hats, avoid peak sun hours between 10 AM and 2 PM, and other such precautions. On the other hand, men are getting sunburnt! Boys play outdoors and then as men, they may work jobs that require lots of outdoor time, mow the lawn on the weekends, and also participate in outdoor sports like golf. On the other hand, women are doing everything they can to avoid aging of the skin with its attendant wrinkles, brown spots, and roughened areas.

Secondly, men do not have their skin checked regularly for skin cancer. They tend to be too busy with jobs and extracurricular activities. Furthermore, visiting a dermatologist and removing one’s clothes for a complete body exam is just not something that is in keeping with the male psyche! The reality, however, is that deadly skin cancers such as melanoma that are caught early are much easier to cure than those that are detected later when they are more likely to have spread to other areas of the body. Regular skin check-ups allow for earlier detection of melanomas and of skin lesions that may develop into melanomas.

What’s the answer to this higher rate of skin cancer deaths among men? The answer: Sun safety precautions and frequent skin checks. We need to get the message out to men that to fail to do so may have deadly consequences.

Should you have any questions, please contact my office.

George Sanders, M.D.