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Exploring the Differences in Melanoma Risk Factors and Treatment Options Between Men and Women

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It is no secret that the Australian population has one of the highest rates of skin cancer diagnosis and deaths in the world. What you may not be aware of is that melanoma risk factors can vary on a wide range of factors, including your biological sex. Studies have repeatedly shown that melanoma incidence rates are higher in males than in females, and melanoma can affect men worse than women. Research indicates that men are almost twice as likely to develop melanoma and tend to have a lower survival rate for advanced melanoma.

In this article, we'll explore the difference between melanoma in men and women, including why men are more at risk of melanoma. We will also reveal how we can combat this and what you need to look out for on your skin.

woman in the sun

Causes of melanoma in men vs. women

The main cause of melanoma in both men and women is frequent overexposure to ultraviolet rays, which leads to damaged skin cells and cell mutation. If left too long, melanoma experiences rapid growth in the body tissue, becomes a tumour and metastasises to other parts of the body. Research shows that sunburn accounts for 95% of melanomas in Australia. Though sunlight is the most common source of melanoma, it can also come from artificial sources, such as tanning beds. 

There are also a few other statistics that result in men being more vulnerable to melanoma than women:

  • Men are more likely to have a higher prevalence of moles than women.
  • Men are more likely to have higher numbers of atypical moles than women.
  • Men are more likely to have a higher number of dysplastic nevi than women.
  • Men are more likely to have a higher number of melanocytic nevi than women.

It is also important to remember that other factors outside sex differences influence your risk of skin cancer. This includes age, health condition, how fair your skin is, family history, and how often you spend outdoors. We should also make clear that boys, and children in general, are very unlikely to develop melanoma.

construction worker in the sun

Why are men more at risk than women?

So, the key piece of information you clicked on in this article to find out is why men are more likely to get melanomas than women. The reason comes down to biological, genetic and social reasons.

Men tend to spend more time in the sun: On average, males spend more time in the sun than their female counterparts, and this has an impact on the melanoma incidence rate. There's also the fact that, even nowadays, most outdoor workers, like labourers, tradies, builders, roadworkers and other similar occupations, are men. All of this begins to add up when it comes to UV rays, especially if men do these activities without taking precautions.

Less likely to use sun protection: Men have been statistically proven to be less likely to practise sun protection than women. For older generations, not wearing a shirt or sunscreen outdoors was considered the norm. However, this exposed many people to harmful UV rays. The good news is that this is completely fixable for current and future generations. By following a few basic sun protection habits, men can start dropping the number of melanoma cases. 

Different skin types: Men's skin is thicker than women's and has less fat beneath it. Men also, on average, have more collagen in their skin than women, and these biological factors make male skin more vulnerable to sun exposure. An equal amount of UV rays will be more damaging to a man's skin than a woman's. Some smaller studies even suggest that female skin heals quicker than male; however, more trials need to be done in this area.

Lack of estrogen: Researchers have found evidence that patients with high estrogen levels have better immunity to melanoma and, therefore, higher survival rates. While high estrogen does not make you immune to the deadly effects of melanoma, it may help you in your fight against it. The amount of testosterone found in men's blood that isn't attached to any protein is also believed to increase the effects of skin cancer. 

Less likely to go to the doctor: Traditionally, men are seen as more reluctant to see their GP about health issues than women, often taking a grin-it-and-bear-it approach. This is a terrible idea when it comes to skin cancers, and it is always best to have any suspicious mole looked at sooner rather than later. You will likely be told you're fine, but it might just save your life. Leaving moles unchecked may be a contributing factor to higher melanoma mortality rates among men.

While at first glance, this may seem like grim news if you're a man, keep in mind that many of these are behavioural-based issues and can be easily changed by individuals. By making a few necessary changes to protect yourself from the sun, the other risk factors will become much less of a concern.

Doctor examine skin for skin cancer

Do symptoms differ for men and women?

For men, melanomas are more likely to be found on the neck, back or chest, whereas for women, the location of Melanoma is more often on the back or legs. Both sexes are vulnerable to melanoma on the face, lips and ears. It is also important to remember that melanoma can appear in areas not exposed to the sun, including between the toes, under the armpits and in the genital area. 

Symptoms of melanoma to look out for

Regardless of your sex, everyone needs to be aware of the symptoms of melanoma. Checking your skin once a month is the best way to monitor any potential changes in your body. When performing a full body check, we recommend following the ABCDE guide for symptoms and signs of melanoma.

A for Asymmetrical: Moles that are an odd shape or aren't symmetrical.

B for Border: Unclear or blurred mole edges need to be checked. 

C for Colour: If a mole has multiple shades or colours or has changed colour.

D for Diameter: Any mole larger than 6mm.

E for Evolving: A mole that changes in any noticeable way.

Diagnosis & treatment for men vs. women

One of the biggest mistakes people make is to ignore an unusual mole and put off getting it checked. This is especially the case with men, who, unfortunately, are statistically more likely to put off doctor visits. Leaving a melanoma can lead to a tumour and metastasis cancer (the spread of cancer to somewhere it didn't originate). Unfortunately, outcomes for men diagnosed with melanoma are more dire than for women. A recent study showed that the mortality rate for men is higher, with a 1 in 84 chance of death after a melanoma prognosis, while women have a 1 in 284 figure for women. Early detection is, therefore, vital, as treatment will likely be less intrusive for the patient and more likely to be successful.

Treatments for melanoma vary depending on the severity of the skin cancer and what stage the patient is at. Treatment can range from minor surgery to radiation and chemotherapy. However, more serious surgery will be required if it has developed into a tumour that has entered the bloodstream and muscle. 

woman wearing sun hat

Prevention for men vs. women

Both men and women can greatly reduce their chances of developing skin cancer by taking the following steps: 

Sun protection measures: Put on sunscreen, wear sun-protective clothing like a shirt, hat and sunglasses, and stay in the shade during high UV times. 

Lifestyle changes: Have a healthy diet high in fruits, vegetables, fibre, grains, lean meats and healthy fats to boost your immune system. Keep the red meats, fast food and alcohol to a minimum. Also, if you smoke, we cannot stress how much your health will improve if you quit. Regular exercise is also great for your immune system and overall health.

Regular skin checks: Both self-checks and professional skin checks have been proven to save lives. When self-checking, be sure to check everywhere, including your face, back, behind your ears, between the hair on your head and between fingers and toes.

Avoid tanning beds: The UV rays from tanning beds greatly increase your risk of developing skin cancer.

No matter your gender, SunDoctors can help with your next skin check.

If you're a man reading this, let us reassure you that it's not all doom and gloom. Many of the reasons why men are more at risk of melanoma and other skin cancers are due to typical behaviours, not genetic reasons. It is important to understand the role good sun protection and skincare habits have in greatly reducing your risk of developing skin cancer and improving the overall survival rate. Also, by checking your skin and moles every month, you'll have a better knowledge of your own body and be able to catch any changes early.

No matter what your sex, race, genetics or background, regularly checking your skin and moles is a must for peace of mind and catching any potential problems early. Melanoma is a very treatable disease when caught in the early stages, and a combination of monthly self-checks and annual professional skin checks are essential to staying on top of your skin health. If you wish to book your next skin check or have any questions, get in touch with SunDoctors today!

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