Men now have a higher rate of skin cancer deaths than women — here's why

A new study shows that skin cancer deaths are on the rise for men living in developed nations around the world. (Photo: Getty Images)
A new study shows that skin cancer deaths are on the rise for men living in developed nations around the world. (Photo: Getty Images)

While the women of the world seem to have successfully worked sunscreen into their skin care routines, the other half of the population doesn’t seem to be as adept at using a moisturizer with sun protection on a regular basis.

A new study presented at the 2018 NCRI Cancer Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, shows that skin cancer deaths are on the rise for men living in developed nations around the globe. Of the 18 countries studied, eight showed an increase of more than 50 percent in male death due to skin cancer over the past 30 years. The Guardian reports that countries across Europe showed alarmingly increased rates: 70 percent in Spain and Britain, 60 percent in the Netherlands, and 50 percent in France and Belgium.

At the same time, the rate of female deaths due to skin cancer has gone down in Austria, the Czech Republic, and Israel. According to doctor and head researcher Dorothy Yang, the gender discrepancy may be because men are “less likely to protect themselves from the sun.”


Patients from the United States were not included in the study, but according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is a greater rate of melanoma in men. The Skin Cancer Foundation describes melanoma as “the most dangerous form of skin cancer … [which] develop[s] when unrepaired DNA damage to skin cells (most often caused by ultraviolet radiation from sunshine or tanning beds) triggers mutations (genetic defects) that lead the skin cells to multiply rapidly and form malignant tumors.”

As of 2015, nearly 18 out of 100,000 women were diagnosed with melanoma of the skin, while men were diagnosed at a rate of around 28 out of 100,000. On the bright side for both genders, the Skin Cancer Foundation reports that melanoma is “almost always curable” if recognized and treated early. However, it’s worth noting that if melanoma is not caught early, the cancer can advance and spread to other parts of the body, where it becomes difficult to treat and can be fatal, according to the foundation.

“I find that since women are accustomed to taking care of their skin from a young age, they are more likely to use UV protection,” says New York City-based dermatologist Howard Sobel. “It is normalized in our society for women to take preventative measures against skin aging, and use skin care products that include [sunscreen] and other anti-aging ingredients.”

As a corrective, Sobel suggests we teach young boys about the dangers of sun exposure and get men, as well as women, accustomed to wearing a moisturizing sunscreen on a daily basis.

Lifestyle may also account for the demographic differences. “Men are much less likely to incorporate sunscreen into their daily regimen, even though men are statistically more likely to work in outdoor occupations including construction, landscape, law enforcement, farming, etc., where sunscreen is needed daily,” says Sobel. “One of the most common locations for skin cancer on men is the top of their head, as they are not protecting their scalp with a hat when outside, which is especially important for men with bald heads.”

The Guardian article notes scientists are investigating whether biological or genetic factors may also have an effect on the findings. For now, a bit of broken-record advice: Wear sunscreen.

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