Men's Health Month: Skin Cancer

By Brian Hartz

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

When it comes to men and skin cancer, there’s good news and bad.

The good news, according to Lawrence Mark, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of clinical dermatology at IU School of Medicine and a physician scientist at the IU Simon Cancer Center, is that there’s a wider array of products — from UV-blocking clothing to more effective formulas of sunscreen — that can help reduce the risk of skin cancer.

Dr. MarkMark

The bad news? Despite such advancements, cases of skin cancer in men are on the rise, particularly the non-melanoma forms: basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.

The increase, Dr. Mark says, can partly be attributed to longevity. As men get older, their odds of getting skin cancer increase, whereas women’s chances lessen. The median age of diagnosis for melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, is 65 years for men, Dr. Mark says.

“We see more cases of basal cell and squamous cell skin cancer,” Dr. Mark says, “but it is highly curable with surgical excision. Most people don’t die of basal cell or squamous cell cancer, but they can be very disfiguring conditions, cosmetically, if you don’t take care of them when they’re small.”

The number of skin cancer cases has been on the rise for a number of years, in part due to better diagnostics as well as people living longer, Dr. Mark said.

Men are more likely to get all forms of skin cancer, including melanoma, than women. The National Cancer Institute predicts that 28,800 men and 17,500 women will be diagnosed with melanoma this year and nearly twice as many men as women will die from the disease.

Back to the good news. If caught early, melanoma is one of the easiest forms of cancer to cure via a simple surgical procedure. Dr. Mark says 95 percent of melanoma cases can be cured by an excision, without the need for chemotherapy or radiation therapy. 

“Incidence is going up but mortality is not,” Dr. Mark said.

Signs and symptoms to look for: 

  • Pimple-like blemishes that don’t go away
  • Rough, warty patches on the skin
  • Moles that appear suddenly and grow larger over a short period of time

“Those are red flags,” Dr. Mark says. “The biggest thing is if you have something different than anything you’ve ever had arising on your skin, it should be checked by a physician. If it looks different, or acts different than anything else you’ve ever had — what is often termed an ‘ugly duckling’ on your skin — you should view that as a possible warning sign.”

The biggest thing is if you have something different than anything you've ever had arising on your skin, it should be checked by a physician. If it looks different, or acts different than anything else you've ever had — what is often termed an ‘ugly duckling’ on your skin — you should view that as a possible warning sign.Lawrence Mark, M.D.

Myths about skin cancer 

  • You need prolonged exposure to the sun to get vitamin D. “Your skin makes vitamin D with minimal UV exposure,” Dr. Mark says. “So you don't really need to get a tan to make vitamin D.” Also, vitamin D is easily available by drinking milk, eating fish or taking supplements.
  • Being naturally dark-skinned or having a deep tan protects you from getting skin cancer. “Not all skin cancer is only associated with environmental UV damage. Even dark-skinned individuals can get skin cancer, including melanoma. Genetics and family history also play a role,” Dr. Mark explains.
  • If you biopsy a potentially cancerous skin blemish, you make it more likely to metastasize (spread) to other parts of the body if it is cancerous. “There’s no good evidence to support that,” Dr. Mark says. “Though there are rare tumors where that’s true, skin cancer is not one of them.”

How to protect yourself

Dr. Mark shared these easy precautions men can take to minimize their chances of getting skin cancer: 

  • Use sunscreens that have titanium dioxide or zinc oxide as active ingredients. These act as physical barriers to UV rays.
  • Find a good sunscreen you like — and use it. In general, men are not as accustomed as women to applying creams and lotions to their skin, and they don’t like the feel of heavy, thick, sticky substances. Because you get what you pay for in terms of how light and natural the sunscreen feels on your skin, he suggests avoiding the less expensive ones. Aveeno, Clinique and EltaMD are sunscreen brands he recommends.
  • Cover up. Don’t go outside shirtless. Wear a hat. Look for clothing made with a UV protective factor. “There are several companies that make fabrics that absorb UV rays so it can’t penetrate to the skin.”
  • Be smart, especially now that summer is almost here. “Don’t be nonchalant about your exposure to the sun. Don’t go out with the intent of trying to get a tan.” Try to limit your outdoor activities to the morning or late afternoon hours to avoid the UV rays from the midday sun.

See other Men's Health Month stories