Melanoma – the most deadly form of skin cancer – affects men more than women, according to research from Cancer Research UK in partnership with the University of Leeds.

Risk factors for the cancer include overexposure to UV from the sun or sunbeds, having pale skin with a lot of moles, and a family history of the disease, say the researchers.

Their research uncovered facts and figures about melanoma in the UK, which show that its effects on men and women are inequitable, namely:

  • 3.4 men in every 100,000 die from melanoma each year, compared with only 2.0 women
  • 6,200 men develop melanoma each year and 1,300 die, compared with 6,600 and 900 women, respectively.

While there are these differences in rates of advanced cancer and death, the rates of diagnosis among men and women are the same – around 17 for every 100,000 people. Yet, the death rates for men are 70% higher.

As to an explanation for this, Professor Julia Newton-Bishop from the University of Leeds says:

Men are more likely to be diagnosed when melanoma is at a more advanced stage.

But there also seem to be strong biological reasons behind the differences and we’re working on research to better understand why men and women’s bodies deal with their melanomas in different ways.”

She also notes that men tend to develop melanoma on their back and chest, which may be more difficult to see, whereas women tend to develop it on their arms and legs.

The UK is not the only place where melanoma has more of a penchant for men. In the US in 2009, skin cancer statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that:

  • 35,436 men were diagnosed with melanoma, compared with 26,210 women
  • 5,992 men died from melanoma, compared with 3,207 women.

Sara Hiom from Cancer Research UK says that prevention is key to tackling melanoma, adding: “Sunburn is a clear sign that the DNA in your skin cells has been damaged and, over time, this can lead to skin cancer.”

Melanoma on man's skin circled in penShare on Pinterest
One of the researchers’ explanations for higher risk in men is that they are more likely to have melanoma on their back and chest.

Sara Hiom also says that getting into good habits regarding the sun, including avoiding sunbeds and wearing sunscreen, are the best ways to prevent the disease while enjoying the benefits of sunshine.

“Research has shown that using sunbeds for the first time before 35 can increase your risk of malignant melanoma by nearly 60%,” Hiom says.

To help the general public with skin cancer prevention, the American Cancer Society recommends wearing a sunscreen with sun protection factor (SPF) 30, as it blocks 97% of UVB rays, and covering up by wearing a hat and sunglasses or seeking shade.

The health organization cites other harmful effects from too much sun exposure:

  • Dark patches
  • Wrinkles
  • Loose skin
  • Premature aging
  • DNA damage
  • Sunburns
  • Eye problems.

Sara Hiom warns that early detection of melanoma is vital, saying:

If something goes wrong with the car then you sort it out straight away. The same should go for you – if you or your partner notice any unusual or persistent changes then see your GP.

The key thing is to get to know your skin and what’s normal for you so you’re more likely to notice something out of the ordinary.”

Scientists have recently detected a unique chemical odor signature for melanoma in the skin, potentially aiding early detection.