More men are dying from melanoma across the world, while death rates are static or falling for women. Research, presented at the 2018 National Cancer Research Institute Conference, examined statistics from 33 countries over 30 years and found that more men were dying from melanoma in all but one of those countries. And researchers aren’t sure why.
“More research will be needed to explore the factors underlying these trends,” said Dr. Dorothy Yang, the junior doctor at the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust, UK, who presented the research. “There is evidence that suggests men are less likely to protect themselves from the sun or engage with melanoma awareness and prevention campaigns. There is also ongoing work looking for any biological factors underlying the difference in morality rates between men and women.”
Whether the increase in death rates is due to a lack of awareness or some biological aspect doctors don’t yet understand, the study did draw attention to one important fact: more awareness and public focus on skin cancer prevention is definitely needed.
“Melanomas are the deadliest type of skin cancer,” said Dr. Anna Pavlick, an oncologist at NYU Langone Health, when discussing melanoma in general. “Because they have a tendency to spread to other parts of the body, either through the lymphatics or the blood stream. Most of the time, 90% of all melanomas, are sun-exposed.”
Dr. Pavlick said that “patients who had scalding sun burns as children, patients who have had excessive sun exposure, patients who go to tanning salons because they thought that having a tan was the healthy thing to do,” are just some of the people who would be at risk for developing melanoma because of sun damage to their skin.
In every surveyed country, the rates of melanoma deaths were higher in men than women. The highest three-year average death rates for 2013 through 2015 were found in Australia (5.72 per 100,000 men and 2.53 per 100,000 women), and Slovenia (3.86 per 100,000 men and 2.58 per 100,000 women). They were lowest in Japan (.24 in men and .18 in women). Out of all surveyed countries, the Czech Republic was the only one where there was a decrease in men’s melanoma death rate.
So what can you do to protect yourself from melanoma? Anyone who is considered “high-risk” for melanoma, which includes people with fare skin, those with a family history of the disease, and those who have had a lot of sun exposure in their lives, a monthly self-exam can help you to catch skin cancer early and move onto treatment.
“If you’re at high-risk for skin cancer, or you have skin cancer already, we really emphasize the importance of a skin check. We recommend that you look at your skin once a month and ask yourself, do any of your spots (moles, freckles, etc.) satisfy what we call the ABCDEs … that’s an acronym to remind us what are atypical signs in a mole.” The ABCDEs to look for during a melanoma self-check are:
- Asymmetrical moles: if you drew a line straight down the center of the mole, would the sides match?
- Borders: irregular, jagged, not smooth; can also stand for bleeding
- Colors: multiple distinct colors in the mole
- Diameter: larger than 6 mm, about the size of a pencil head eraser
- Evolution: This may be the most important, anything that is changing over time, such as gaining color, losing color, painful, itching, hurting, changing shape, etc…