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September 4, 2015

MEN: why a skin exam can make a vital difference

by: Kimberly Barone Baden

Regardless of whether you spent every weekend or only a day or two here and there in the sun this summer, a basic skin exam is vital to catching early signs of melanoma, a skin cancer that takes the lives of almost 10,000 Americans every year.

As a medical attorney, I’ve found that many people are aware of the dangers of too much sun exposure, but they are often less familiar with the other risk factors that may be associated with skin cancer.

Men are at a much greater risk of developing melanoma than women

It’s a statistic that surprises a lot of people: men are more likely than women to be diagnosed with melanoma, and they’re almost two-thirds as likely to die from it. Melanoma is also one of only three malignancies in men that has seen an increased death rate between 1990 and 2009, rising more than 10 percent. Respectively, the rate for women has declined over the same period by 9.6 percent.

Why are men more likely to be diagnosed than women? That question is the subject of numerous studies, but some of the top theories have to do with diagnostic delays such as not checking skin regularly, failing to act on potential melanomas and/or not having regular skin exams; other related health behavior differences; and gender differences that may affect tumor biology.

ABCDE’s of melanoma detection

For men, about one-third of melanomas occur on the back, so a regular skin exam by a medical professional is vital. Additionally, when checking the other, more visible, parts of your body during a home skin check, the Skin Cancer Foundation recommends that you look out for the following signs of malignant melanoma:

A – Asymmetry: Moles that aren’t evenly proportioned. For example, if you drew a line down the middle of the mole, one side would not match the other.

B – Border: Moles that have very irregular borders. The edges may be notched, scalloped or very uneven.

C – Color: Moles that are several shades of brown or tan, appear black, or become blue, red or white.

D – Diameter: Moles larger than a pencil eraser, though they may be smaller on initial detection.

E – Evolving: Moles that get larger over time. Any change in color, size, elevation, shape or other visible trait should be brought to your doctor’s attention.

Other potential risk factors for melanoma

Apart from exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet light, which is the number one risk factor for melanoma, Cancer Research UK states there are several other risk factors tied to melanoma development:

Skin color: fair skinned people, those with lighter or red hair and people with lots of freckles are more at risk than those with darker complexions. And according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, white men age 50 or older account for almost 60 percent of melanoma deaths.

History of sunburn: The risk of melanoma doubles for those who have had sunburns in the past, and is higher for those who have had several sunburns at any age.

Sunbed use: The ultraviolet lights used in sunbeds have been linked to several types of skin cancer, including melanoma.

Family history: Along with inherited skin types, studies are also starting to link certain faulty genetics that may lead to an increased risk of melanoma.

Previous melanoma: If you’ve had melanoma in the past, you’re 8 to 15 times more likely to have it again compared to the average population.

Viagra use may increase likelihood of developing melanoma

A 2014 study that used data collected from more than 25,000 men over a several year period found that “men who used sildenafil [Viagra] for ED had a statistically significant elevated risk of melanoma.” Data analyzed during the study suggested that this might be due to how sildenafil functions: that the same action that sildenafil follows to assist in treating ED may also make it easier for melanoma to proliferate and survive in the body.

With results showing an approximately 84% increase in likelihood of men who took sildenafil being diagnosed with melanoma as opposed to those who didn’t take the drug, researchers concluded that this possible association “provide[s] epidemiological evidence on possible skin adverse effects of PDE5A inhibitors [sildenafil] and support[s] continued investigation of this relationship.”

Regardless of gender, we should all watch our sun exposure

During the summer months in my hometown of Charleston, South Carolina, there is an event called the “I will reflect” campaign, which is dedicated to making people more aware of “sun safety, skin protection and the significant dangers of melanoma.” During the campaign, the company offers silicone wristbands that turn purple after you’ve been in the sun too long. All of the proceeds raised from these efforts go toward skin cancer awareness and education.

If you can’t get your hands on a sun-activated wristband (or one of the many sun safety apps and wearable techs available today), staying aware of your sun exposure, staying in the shade during the most intense hours of the day (about 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.), wearing/reapplying sunscreen and getting regular skin exams are some essential steps you can take toward reducing your possible risk for melanoma and keeping your skin healthy overall.