Why Men Have a Skin Cancer Mystery: Lack of a Key Antioxidant Could Be the Culprit

Men are three times more likely to develop certain types of skin cancer than women. Until recently, medical science had no explanation for this phenomenon. However, recent research suggests that men’s skin may lack a crucial cancer-fighting antioxidant found in women’s skin. This difference could play a significant role in not only skin cancer development but also in the prevalence of other types of cancers in men compared to women.

A Potent Antioxidant: Catalase

In a lab study conducted on animals by scientists at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, it was discovered that male skin had lower levels of an essential antioxidant called catalase. This protein plays a significant role in inhibiting skin cancer by neutralizing hydrogen peroxide and other harmful reactive oxygen compounds that cause damage to our DNA. These harmful compounds form during exposure to ultraviolet B light (UVB), a typical cause of sunburn and skin damage, which can ultimately lead to skin cancer. Previous research has linked low catalase activity to the progression of skin cancer.

According to researcher Gregory Lesinski, the lower levels of catalase in men’s skin might make them more vulnerable to oxidative stress. This increased susceptibility could raise the risk of skin cancer in men compared to women.

Inflammatory Cells: Another Piece of the Puzzle

Besides the difference in antioxidant levels, the researchers also discovered that men had higher concentrations of cancer-linked inflammatory cells in their skin. Inflammation has long been known to play a role in the development of cancer, as it can facilitate the growth and spread of cancerous cells.

“Men face a higher risk of several types of cancers, and relatively higher levels of inflammatory myeloid cells might contribute to this susceptibility,” says researcher Tatiana Oberyszyn, who participated in the study.

The researchers believe that these physiological disparities between men and women might help explain why men develop other forms of cancer more frequently.

Prevention Strategies for Men

Armed with this knowledge, it’s crucial for men to take steps to mitigate their increased risk of developing skin cancer and other types of cancer. Here are some strategies to consider:

1. Protect your skin from the sun

Since exposure to UVB light plays a significant role in skin cancer development, it’s critical to protect your skin when outdoors. Use sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, wear protective clothing (such as long-sleeved shirts and wide-brimmed hats) and seek shade when the sun is strongest, typically between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

2. Get regular checkups

Regular skin exams, performed by a dermatologist or yourself, can help detect skin cancer early. Catching cancer in its early stages increases the chances of successful treatment.

3. Don’t forget about your diet

Eating a healthy diet full of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables can help reduce your risk of developing skin cancer as well as other types of cancer. Foods rich in antioxidants, like berries and leafy greens, can help to neutralize harmful free radicals and support your body’s natural cancer-fighting defenses.

4. Limit alcohol intake

Studies have shown that excessive alcohol consumption can increase the risk of several types of cancer. To minimize this risk, try to limit your alcohol consumption to no more than two drinks per day for men or one drink per day for women.

5. Exercise regularly

Physical activity has been linked to a reduced risk of cancer. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week.

Closing Thoughts

Understanding the differences in skin cancer risk between men and women can help to inform prevention strategies. Men should take steps to protect their skin from the sun, monitor for changes, and maintain a healthy lifestyle to reduce their risk of developing skin cancer. By being proactive about their health, men can minimize their heightened risk and hopefully close the gap between the sexes in the prevalence of skin cancer and other forms of cancer.