Men Largely Ignorant of Signs of Skin Cancer

August 14, 2014

Fewer than two-thirds of men know the signs of skin cancer and the younger they are the less likely they are to believe they are at risk for the disease, according to a national survey.

A national survey finds age-related differences in men’s perceptions and actions regarding skin cancer, but all men agree on the value of more knowledge and discussion about the disease.

Findings from a new survey by the American Academy of Dermatology show that more than 90% of American men know something about skin cancer, but only 6 of 10 (61%) know how to detect signs on their own skin, and even fewer actually visit a doctor for annual skin cancer screenings (18%).

These shortcomings were more apparent in younger men (age 18 to 34), who were also significantly less likely to believe that they are at risk for skin cancer than men over age 35 (42% vs 31%), and are more likely to protect their skin for cosmetic reasons than they are for health reasons (32% vs 20%).

“In my recent experience, I have treated more men for skin cancer, and the skin cancers in men are often more serious,” said Brett Coldiron, MD, president of the American Academy of Dermatology. “This may be because men don’t get screened as often as they should, which leads to more advanced cancers that could have been caught earlier. The survey findings are encouraging in that men do wish to learn more and even welcome discussion about skin cancer.” 

The Academy’s national SPOT me™ survey was conducted to gauge American men’s current knowledge, perceptions and behaviors around skin health concerns and actions, especially in relation to skin self-exams and skin cancer screenings, and how those behaviors differ between the generations.

Participants in the 12-question, self-administered online omnibus survey were a nationally representative sample of more than 1100 American males 18 years of age and older. The results of the survey were released on June 25, 2014.

One month later, the Surgeon General’s Office issued a report that called for action to prevent skin cancer. The report notes that skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States, yet most cases are preventable. Despite recent efforts to address risk factors, skin cancer rates continue to rise.

More than 80% of the 5 million American adults treated for skin cancer each year have non-melanoma disease, including 7% of those aged 65 years or older. Recent Medicare data show that the number of procedures used to treat these skin cancers has increased by 16%.

Melanoma of the skin is the fifth most common cancer for men, states the report. White men aged 65 years or older have the highest incidence and death rates for melanoma.

Not only is skin cancer the most common type of cancer, it is also the most rapidly increasing cancer. The Academy notes that over the past 30 years, melanoma incidence rates have continued to rise, and men over 50 are at greater risk for developing the disease than the general public. By age 60, twice as many men develop melanoma as those of the opposite sex of the same age, and by age 80, there are 3 times more men with melanoma.