Skin Cancer - Men vs. Women
Almost all kinds of skin cancers, 95% of melanoma and 99% of no-melanoma (1) are caused by too much UV radiation from the sun and other sources such as sunlamps, sunbeds, and solariums. But what exactly are UV radiation and how do they cause skin melanoma cancers? UV radiation is part of the electromagnetic spectrum that enriches the earth from the sun. This radiation cannot be seen with the naked eye because they have wavelengths that are shorter than visible sunlight (2). There are three types of UV radiation; UVA, UVB, and UVC radiation.
Most of us are exposed to huge amounts of UVA radiation. These rays account for 95% of the total UV radiation that reaches the earth’s surface. Though UVA radiation is less intense compared to UVB rays, they can penetrate the clouds and glass and are about 40 times more prevalent (3). UVA radiation penetrates your skin more deeply than the other rays and is responsible for causing wrinkling and skin aging (3).
Contrary to UVA rays, UVB radiation cannot penetrate glass and can be blocked. However, they are the deadliest type of the radiation that reaches the earth surface. They tend to attack the skin’s superficial epidermal layers (outermost layer) causing sunburn and skin reddening as a result. Although UVB rays can attack you all year round, especially in areas with high latitudes, they are most prevalent between April and October (between 10 AM and 4 PM) in the United States.
While both types can cause skin cancer, (4) UVB rays are more responsible for melanoma. When you get a sunburn, it’s a clear indication that too much UV radiation has damaged your DNA. Remember, you cannot feel or see the UV rays, and you don’t have to get blisters or peel to be sunburned. If your skin gets red or pink after extended periods in the sun, it’s a clear indication you were burned by the sun.
If you have a darker skin, your skin may feel itchy, tender, or irritated, rather than appear red. It is reported that getting a sunburn just once in two years, can triple your risk of developing melanoma skin cancer (4)! You don’t have to worry about the third type of UV radiation, UVC, because it doesn’t get to the earth’s surface, as it is absorbed in the ozone layer.
Why Are Men More Likely to Develop Skin Cancer?
Broadly speaking, most men tend to ignore the matter of taking care of their skin, because this notion is perceived as feminine. Dr. Neal Schultz, a New York City dermatologist, says that men tend to shy away from applying schmear anywhere on their skin, particularly on their faces, which works against the health of their skin. Speaking broadly again, women tend to be very cautious with their skin and are more likely to apply skin care products, such as sunscreens to protect their skin against UV radiation. To add to that, their normal lotions, creams, foundations, and moisturizers have routinely added SPF, making sun protection almost inevitable for many women. You hardly see men, especially the older ones, applying any sunscreen before hitting the outdoors.
Due to the nature of their work, men are more exposed to harmful UVB rays than women. Men have more of a tendency to work long hours in the sun, and for this reason, they are three times more likely to have squamous cell cancers and two times more likely to have basal cell cancers than women (5).
Many men work in industries with large amounts of arsenic, which increases the risk of developing skin cancers. Arsenic is a heavy metal that is used in the manufacture of insecticides. Laborers who are exposed to other chemicals such as paraffin, coal, and tar and other types of oils also have a higher risk of having skin cancers.
Women’s magazines have succeeded in putting the message across about skin care and dangers of sun exposure, whereas men’s magazines hardly ever broach the topic. Men’s magazine tends to sway more towards other topics such as fitness and sports as opposed to skincare and beauty. When these publications do talk about skin care and the dangers of UV radiation, men are failing to heed similar warnings, says Dr. Charlotte Proby, a dermatologist at Cancer Research UK. This lack of awareness and ignorance by men has contributed greatly to the rise of skin cancer cases among men.
It’s a known fact, men are known to enjoy eating bacon or steak more than healthy foods such as broccoli or spinach. What they are ignoring is that nutritious foods are filled with antioxidants that may act as a sunscreen and offer protective cover against UV radiation from the ‘inside-out.’. It is believed that oxidative damage increases the risk of skin cancers and diets rich in antioxidants seem to lower that risk. Experts agree that food nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, polyphenols, lycopene, beta-carotene, selenium, zinc, and vitamins C, E, and A have properties that may protect against skin cancers (6). You can find such nutrients in fruits such as blood oranges, papaya, guava, watermelon, pink grapefruit, and tomatoes; veggies such as broccoli, apricots, cantaloupe, leafy greens, spinach, and bell peppers. They are also present in herbs such as brewed green and black tea; and fatty fish such as albacore tuna, herring, mackerel, and salmon.
It’s clear; men are at a higher risk of developing skin cancers because they are more exposed to UV radiation and don’t do much about it! There should be more, effective education on the dangers of UV radiation directed towards men. The nature of men’s work exposes them to more UV radiation than their counterparts, and preventive measures should be communicated to them to lower these statistics. Some of the best preventive measures against skin cancers come straight from Mother Nature. When healthy eating is combined with protective sunscreens and skin care products, the skin is more protected and healthy overall.