The next time you're at a ballgame, don't be surprised if you get a quick lecture from Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, a melanoma survivor, about protecting your skin from the sun. For the tenth consecutive year, MLB has teamed up with the American Academy of Dermatology in the Play Sun Smart campaign, which warns players and fans about the risks of sun exposure. The effort will feature public service announcements at games, distribution of sun safety cards at ballparks, and free screening exams.
Yawn, yawn. I know. It's certainly no shocker that a professional sports league has agreed to leverage its star power to publicize a public health problem. What is surprising, however, are some of the facts that dermatological groups brandish about men and skin cancer. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, a nonprofit group that receives funding from companies that market sunscreen, men have nearly double the rates of squamous and basal cell carcinomas that women have. And for melanoma—the deadliest type of skin cancer—men have the highest chances of dying of the disease, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Of the estimated 8,420 people who will die of melanoma in 2008, about 64 percent of them will be men, the group says.
Why men? "Part of it is because men tend to get more [ultraviolet] exposure because of their jobs, part of it is that they use sunscreen less, and part of it is later detection," says Barbara Gilchrest, chair of the dermatology department at Boston University. Many of her male melanoma patients, she says, come in only after being nagged by family members. Forty-seven percent of men report they never use sunscreen, one survey found. That's part of the reason, no doubt, that researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say men have higher rates of sunburn. (Something that this poor guy and this one, too, both of whom have posted grisly videos of sunburn at its worst on YouTube, could vouch for.)
A surprising animal study published last year even suggested that male skin may offer less innate protection from squamous cell carcinoma because of an apparent inability to retain adequate amounts of antioxidants. Though the researchers caution more research is needed to validate the findings, this video segment explores the possibility such research could lead to gender-specific sunscreen.
The good news: When a skin tumor is caught early, the vast majority of cases—even if its melanoma—are curable. Read these eight tips on how to spot skin cancer before it spreads.