Melanoma in men is the deadliest form of skin cancer. It occurs when pigment-making cells in the skin, called melanocytes, begin to reproduce uncontrollably. Melanoma can form from an existing mole or develop on unblemished skin. The most common type of melanoma spreads on the skin's surface. It is called superficial spreading melanoma. It may stay on the surface or grow down into deeper tissues. Other types of melanoma can start anywhere on or inside the body, including under fingernails or toenails and inside the eye.
Melanoma rarely occurs before age 18. However, the risk of melanoma in men rises rapidly in young adulthood, making it one of the most common life-threatening forms of cancer in people between the ages of 20 and 50. After age 50, the risk of melanoma rises more slowly with advancing age.
Men have a higher risk of developing this cancer than women. It has been suggested that social issues underlie this gender difference because, previously, men tended to work outdoors more than women, and thus received more exposure to the sun. Men are also less likely to visit a doctor and get suspicious-looking skin lesions examined. However, even when these and other similar factors are accounted for, men with melanoma still have poorer outcomes than their female counterparts i.e. something else must be happening as well.
It has long been suspected that female sex hormones are linked to the control of skin pigmentation. In fact, observers noted that pregnancy was often associated with changes in skin coloration.
Melanoma in men is much less common than some other types of skin cancers. But melanoma is more dangerous because it’s much more likely to spread to other parts of the body if not caught and treated early.
Melanoma forms normally on skin but can also form in your eyes and, rarely, in internal organs, such as your intestines. The exact cause of all melanomas is not clear, but exposure to ultraviolet radiation from sunlight or tanning lamps and beds increases your risk of developing melanoma. Limiting your exposure to UV radiation can help reduce your risk of melanoma. Knowing the warning signs of skin cancer can help ensure that cancerous changes are detected and treated before the cancer has spread. Melanoma in men can be treated successfully if it is detected early.
Melanoma seems to strikes men harder than women, why?
One reason may be that men know less about skin cancer. With less knowledge, it’s natural that men are less likely to protect their skin from the sun. This also well known that women apply sunscreen more often than men. Women also use makeup and other cosmetics that offer SPF. So sun protection seems to play a role in why melanoma strikes men harder.
Researchers believe that a major cause may lie in men’s skin. We know that men’s skin differs from women’s skin. Men have thicker skin with less fat beneath. A man’s skin also contains more collagen and elastin, fibers that give the skin firmness and keep it tight.
Sun protection can lower men’s risk of getting Melanoma
While sun protection alone cannot explain why men are hit harder, but it can reduce the risk of getting melanoma. Men who dislike applying lotions and creams can still protect their skin from the sun. When outdoors, even on cloudy days, men can:
- Put on a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.
- Seek shade whenever possible.
- Wear long sleeves and pants when possible.
- Stay out of the sun when the sun’s rays are strongest.
Sunscreen can protect skin not covered by clothing. To encourage men to wear sunscreen, there are sunscreens formulated just for men. To get the needed sun protection, it is recommended that wearing sunscreen offers SPF 30, broad-spectrum protection, and water resistance.
Types of Melanoma
- Superficial spreading melanoma: This is the most common, and it often appears on the trunk or limbs. The cells tend to grow slowly at first, before spreading across the surface of the skin.
- Nodular melanoma: It is the second most common type, appearing on the trunk, head, or neck. It tends to grow more quickly than other types, turning red rather than black, as it grows.
- Lentigo maligna melanoma: This is less common, and tends to affect older people, especially in parts of the body that have been exposed to the sun over several years. It starts as a Hutchinson's freckle, or lentigo maligna, which looks like a stain on the skin. It usually grows slowly and it less dangerous than other types.
- Acral lentiginous melanoma: This is the rarest kind of melanoma. It usually appears on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, or under the nails. It is more likely in people with darker skin and does not appear to be linked to sun exposure.
Causes of Melanoma in Men
Research is ongoing into the causes of melanoma. Men with certain types of skin are more prone to developing melanoma, and the following factors are associated with an increased incidence of skin cancer:
- high freckle density or tendency to develop freckles after sun exposure
- high number of moles
- five or more atypical moles
- presence of actinic lentigines, small gray-brown spots, also known as liver spots, sun spots, or age spots
- giant congenital melanocytic nevus, brown skin marks that present at birth, also called birth marks
- pale skin that does not tan easily and burns, plus light-colored eyes
- red or light-colored hair
- high sun exposure, particularly if it produces blistering sunburn, and especially if sun exposure is intermittent rather than regular
- age, as risk increases with age
- family or personal history of melanoma
- having an organ transplant
Of these, only high sun exposure and sunburn are avoidable. Avoiding overexposure to the sun and preventing sunburn can significantly lower the risk of skin cancer. Tanning beds are also a source of damaging UV rays.
Symptoms of Melanoma
Melanoma is usually larger than ¼ inch in diameter but can be smaller. The most common sites are the face, upper trunk (especially in men), and legs (especially in women). Watch a mole for melanoma:
- Asymmetry (one side doesn't match the other)
- order irregularities
- Colors or shades of skin that are different within the same mole
- Diameter larger than 6 millimeters (larger than a pencil eraser)
- Evolving (a newly developing mole)
- A mole that bleeds, feels numb, or has a crusty surface may also hint at melanoma.
Treatment for Melanoma
How deeply a melanoma has invaded nearby tissues affects the outlook. If it has invaded only nearby tissue, it can be cured. But if melanoma cells have broken away and traveled through the lymph vessels to nearby lymph nodes and then spread to other organs, the disease can be deadly. To treat melanoma, a doctor must remove the visible tumor along with ½ to 1 inch of healthy skin around the tumor, depending on the size of the tumor. This is important because nearby skin can contain microscopic bits of the cancer.
In some cases, the doctor may perform a specialized procedure during which the tumor is shaved away one thin layer at a time. Each layer is examined under the microscope as it is removed. This technique helps the doctor remove as little healthy skin as possible.
During surgery, the lymph node closest to the melanoma is checked. If it does not contain cancer cells, the other nodes are usually cancer free. If cancer is found in the sentinel node, your doctor may recommend additional treatment.
If cancer has spread to one or more lymph nodes, doctors recommend that all lymph nodes in the area be removed, but this is controversial. Although spreading cancer cells might be removed, cells that are fighting the cancer also are removed. Treatments can often help people with:
- a melanoma that is deep in the skin
- cancer cells that have spread to the lymph nodes
- cancer that has spread to other organs.
Treatment may include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, medicines that boost your immune system's ability to fight the cancer.
Preventive Measures for Melanoma
You can reduce your risk of melanoma if you:
- Avoid the sun during the middle of the day. Schedule outdoor activities for other times of the day, even in winter or when the sky is cloudy.
- You absorb UV radiation year-round, and clouds offer little protection from damaging rays. Avoiding the sun at its strongest helps you avoid the sunburns and suntans that cause skin damage and increase your risk of developing skin cancer. Sun exposure accumulated over time also may cause skin cancer.
- Wear sunscreen year-round. Sunscreens don't filter out all harmful UV radiation, especially the radiation that can lead to melanoma. But they play a major role in an overall sun protection program.
- Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15. Apply sunscreen generously, and reapply every two hours or more often if you're swimming or perspiring.
- Wear protective clothing. Sunscreens don't provide complete protection from UV rays. So cover your skin with dark, tightly woven clothing that covers your arms and legs and a broad-brimmed hat, which provides more protection than a baseball cap or visor does.
- Some companies also sell photoprotective clothing. A dermatologist can recommend an appropriate brand.
- Don't forget sunglasses. Look for those that block both types of UV radiation i.e. UVA and UVB rays.
- Avoid tanning lamps and beds. Tanning lamps and beds emit UV rays and can increase your risk of skin cancer.
- Become familiar with your skin so that you'll notice changes. Examine your skin regularly for new skin growths or changes in existing moles, freckles, bumps and birthmarks.
With the help of mirrors, check your face, neck, ears and scalp. Examine your chest and trunk and the tops and undersides of your arms and hands. Examine both the fronts and backs of your legs and your feet, including the soles and the spaces between your toes. Also check your genital area and between your buttocks.