A man holds a sun in his hand and it has a warning sign over it

Men and Melanoma

My grandfather was born in 1912. He served during World War II. He was a doctor and worked mostly inside an office or on home visits. He was not a farmer or construction worker. Yet, by the time I could first remember him in the late 1960’s he had been exposed to a lot of sun. He was mostly bald and I remember looking at his head wondering what had happened to his skin.

Men and sun exposure

Maybe he didn’t work outside, but he played outside. He had a pool. He loved attending baseball games. He would get up early on weekend days and headed to the golf course or some lake to fish or both. When he did wear a hat it was mostly a baseball cap with the dreaded polyester mesh covering that was so prevalent during the 1970s. My grandmother rarely went outside.

I spent many a summer or winter day (we were in California) tossing out a line or a baseball together. Those memories are precious to this day. The one thing I never remember was any discussion about sun protection. It was never on the radar. As I reminisce about the good ole days and look over polaroid photographs it seems that most of the men had the same issues with their scalps. They had burned them several times.

Men and melanoma rates

It has been my experience that a very large percentage of baby boomer men and those before the War spent a lot of time outside for many reasons and I have wondered if this cumulative exposure would result in higher rates of dangerous melanoma. Recent findings seem to indicate that they do. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), men are more likely to die of melanoma than women.1

According to research findings, men at any age are twice as likely to die of melanoma than women. These rates increase with age. By the time a man is 80 years old, men are three times more likely to develop the deadly form of cancer than women of the same age group.1 The question is, why?

Why do men have an increased risk of melanoma?

According to the AAD site, men are less informed about skin cancer than women. A 2016 study found that men understood less about prevention, the effects of general tanning, and the dangers of even intermittent sun exposure. So, being less informed is one issue. There are others.1

Researchers cite that another reason may be found in the differences between men and women’s skin. Men’s skin contains more collagen and elastin, which make it thicker and more firm. Recent studies have shown that this type of skin is more likely to be damaged by ultraviolet rays. They also indicate that women’s skin is better at repairing itself.1 So, there are genetic reasons.

Information, action, protection

All this brings me to my original story. I know that being outside is something that both men and women enjoy. I am not saying that women of any generation don’t work and play outside. I just don’t remember my grandmother and her friends outside much and they had lovely skin. Now, that I can point to scientific research that men are exceptionally prone to melanoma, it changes the way I talk to men about skin cancer.

There are reasons why men have higher rates of melanoma and they relate to what they believe and that informs how they act. Indications also point to them being more susceptible to sun damage by virtue of simply having a “Y” chromosome. Add this to hunting trips, fishing excursions, ballgames, and 18 holes and you have a dangerous mix.

Pack the sunscreen, gents.

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