By Dr. Vinh Chung
Risk taking may be a desired trait in a man. From Henry Ford to Warren Buffett, risk takers throughout history have stepped into risk to win big. The gender gap in taking risks with one's health has been documented. According to a 2010 study published in the International Journal of Clinical Practice, American men are more likely to partake in a variety of hazardous behaviors, among them – heavy drinking and smoking, remaining overweight, and sidestepping regular preventive dentist and physician visits.
When it comes to maintaining our health (especially of the skin) – throwing caution to the wind is never a move that is advised. One out of every five Americans will develop skin cancer at some point in their lifetime. Skin cancer takes the lives of two Americans every hour, and melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer. Melanoma is also more common in men; white men are two times more likely to die of melanoma than white women of the same age. By age 80, men are three times more likely to die of melanoma than women.
Several factors contribute to this gender disparity. The first is related to UV exposure which increases likelihood of developing skin cancer. On average, men spend 10 more hours per week in the sun compared to women. Men’s shorter haircuts also mean more exposure to the ears and back of the neck. These are common areas for developing skin cancer. While sunscreen can help reduce UV damage, men are less likely than women to wear sunscreen.
Fortunately, most skin cancers including melanoma are treatable and curable if detected early. Unfortunately, men are less likely to be aware of changes in their skin or to see a doctor regularly. A Cleveland Clinic study indicates only half of men see a doctor regularly and the majority of men would rather do household chores than see a doctor. This delay in melanoma diagnosis can be deadly.
I’m a dermatologist who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer, and our practice sees thousands of skin cancer cases every year. What I wish for my patients is prevention, early diagnosis, and early treatment. A few simple changes in lifestyle can make all the difference.
- Switch up your schedule: UV rays are harshest between 12pm and 3pm. If you are mowing the lawn, walking the dog, or hitting the outdoors with your buddies – try to minimize your exposure during these peak hours.
- Wear protective clothing: Be sure to dress for the occasion. It is always great to have UV-blocking sunglasses, a wide-brimmed hat, long pants, and a UPF shirt in your sunsafe wardrobe arsenal.
- Find a sunscreen you’ll wear: Most people have good intentions about wearing sunscreen, and the key is to find a 30+ SPF sunscreen that you’re willing to wear every day. Sunscreen doesn’t work until you squeeze it out of the bottle and apply it on your skin. Put the bottle of sunscreen next to your toothbrush, so you can put it on after brushing your teeth in the morning. This daily step takes only a minute but can significantly reduce your risk of developing skin cancer.
- Check yourself out or have a partner do it. Be aware of all moles and spots on your skin and report any changes to your dermatologist promptly. Melanoma is curable in the very early stages.
- See your dermatologist: Have your dermatologist check you out from head to toe with a total body skin exam. He/she will be able to notice spots that are concerning and see areas that are harder for you to notice. Early detection can lead to early treatment and early cure.
Men, if your wife insists that you see a doctor, just do it. Don’t be a baby. Your wife is not nagging. She cares about you and wants you to be around for the future.
Women, if there is a man in your life who hasn’t seen a dermatologist or has a new, concerning spot, then encourage him to see a dermatologist. You may be saving his skin – literally.
About the author:
Dr. Vinh Chung is a board-certified dermatologist and fellowship-trained Mohs surgeon at
Vanguard Skin Specialists. He specializes in treating skin cancers and takes care of patients in Pueblo and Colorado Springs. For more information, visit www.vanguardskin.com. For appointments, call 719-543-1111.