Skin Cancer in Men

Light-skinned men are more likely than anyone else to get skin cancer, and the risk goes up with age. Death from skin cancer is rare, but twice as many men die of melanoma as women.1 Find out why this cancer hits men so hard—and how to protect yourself.

How common is skin cancer in men?

One in 28 white men will develop melanoma during his lifetime,2 and the probability of developing non-melanoma skin cancer is much higher.

There are 33.5 new cases of melanoma per 100,000 white men.1 In comparison, there are 20.4 new cases per 100,000 white women and between 1.1 to 4.8 cases per 100,000 men of other races and ethnicities.1 Non-melanoma skin cancers are also more common in white men than other demographics.3,4

Younger women are slightly more likely to develop melanoma than younger men, but the trend reverses at age 50 (Figure).2,5 By age 65, the incidence (number of new cases) is twice as high in men than women. By age 85, the incidence is three times higher.

How common is skin cancer in men?

Why is skin cancer more common in men?

Sun exposure is the most important risk factor for skin cancer. Historically, men may have more sun exposure due to outdoor work.5 Long-term sun exposure seems to be an especially strong risk factor for squamous cell carcinoma.

Additionally, men are less diligent about protecting themselves from the sun. Wearing long pants is the most common way that men protect their skin from the sun—and only 1/3 of men do that.6 About 25% of men stay in the shade and a mere 16% use sunscreen.6 Few men wear wide-brimmed hats (7%) or a long-sleeved shirt (8%) for sun protection. Half of young men—and 2/3 of young white men—have been sunburned in the past year.6 Having a history of severe sunburn increases the risk of melanoma almost 2.5 times for men.7

What should I look for?

In men, melanoma is most likely to grow on the chest and back.5 Melanoma is often a pigmented (dark) lesion that is larger than a normal mole. The melanoma may have an asymmetrical shape or uneven color.

It is also important to recognize signs of basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and the precancer actinic keratosis. If you notice a questionable lesion, make an appointment to see your primary care physician or a dermatologist.

The fact is, it is hard to get a good look at your own back, behind your knees, or the tops of your ears. If you are at high risk of skin cancer, regular skin exams by your doctor may be important.8,9 Skin cancer is usually curable when it is caught early.

How common is it for men to die from skin cancer?

The best numbers about skin cancer survival are about melanoma. Melanoma is not as common as BCC or SCC, but cases of melanoma are tracked in cancer registries, unlike BCC and SCC.

The 5-year survival rate is 90.1% for men diagnosed before age 65 years and 88.5% for men diagnosed after age 65. White men are more than twice as likely as white women to die of melanoma: 4.6 men and 2.0 women per 100,000 die of melanoma each year.1 Among men and women of most other ethnicities, there is less than 1 death due to melanoma per 100,000 individuals.1

The rate of death due to melanoma rises dramatically in older white men, from 13.1 deaths per 100,000 (age 65-69) to 46.1 per 100,000 (age 85+).10

Written by: Sarah O'Brien | Last reviewed: May 2017.
View References