Like many of us, I can count on two hands the number of close people around me who have suffered from cancer. Perhaps unusually in my case, quite a few have been young, fit, active and strong guys. That was part of the motivation for starting the LifeJacket crusade in fact.
Whilst sitting in hospital waiting rooms reading about cancer statistics, I learnt that skin cancer is the second most common cancer amongst men aged between 15-49 (after testicular cancer).
Prostate cancer does not become a major problem until 50+.
I went home and considered the data.
Focusing on skin cancer in men and then exploring this further, there were some surprising observations.
Surprising to me at least.
Skin cancer on a global scale
At the time of writing, there are just over 18 million new cancer cases diagnosed globally each year and 10 million cancer related deaths.
Skin cancer (melanoma and non-melanoma) accounts for 7% of all new cases.
In numbers, this means there are 1.3 million new skin cancer diagnoses and 126 thousand skin cancer deaths each year, across the world.
Establishing past trends is difficult but in countries like the UK and USA, new skin cancer cases have increased by 50% over the past decade.
By 2040, the World Health Organisation forecasts suggest that the annual number of global skin cancer diagnoses will increase from 1.3 million (today) to just under 2.5 million. Almost double.
The number of global skin cancer related deaths is also expected to double almost over the same timeframe.
Of all the new cases that are diagnosed each year, there’s a huge bias towards Europe which accounted for just under 40% of cases despite only representing 7% of the world’s population.
Within Europe, the countries with the highest levels of skin cancer incidence per capita are Scandinavia, Poland, Switzerland, the Netherlands and the UK.
Skin cancer and men specifically
The point that most people miss is that just under 40% more men die of skin cancer than women. This is the global average.
However, like I say, 40% is just an average.
There are a handful of countries where male skin cancer mortality rates are nearly double women’s.
In simple terms, this means that almost two men die of skin cancer for each woman who suffers from the same disease. The countries where this is the case are Australasia, North America, Scandinavia, the UK, amongst many, many others.
So why could this be happening?
I started to wonder why the data was leading to these conclusions.
The exam question was therefore: “why are European men more likely than women to get skin cancer and die of it?”
Without any medical, sociological or scientific background, I believe the following six reasons are the most plausible factors.
Reason #1 – More UV reaching Earth?
Whether you believe in global warming or not, I tend to think NASA know what they’re talking about.
NASA scientists analysing 30 years of satellite data found that the amount of ultraviolet (UV) radiation reaching the Earth’s surface from the sun has increased markedly over the last three decades. The primary culprit: decreasing levels of stratospheric ozone, a colourless gas that acts as the Earth’s natural sunscreen by shielding the surface from damaging UV radiation.
The World Health Organisation classifies ultraviolet rays as a probable human carcinogen. On top of that, a UK study found that about 86% of melanomas can be attributed to exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun.
So, by extension, more UV reaching the earth could be giving rise to more skin cancer.
Reason #2 – More travel and therefore greater sun exposure?
Air travel by Europeans has increased from 144m passengers carried in 1986 to 710m in 2016. That’s passenger growth of 5x in thirty years.
Much of this has been boosted politically thanks to a unified Europe (kind of?!) and therefore effortless border crossing; as much as commercially, thanks to affordable travel options like easyJet and Ryanair.
Clearly, not all travel has been in the direction of Northern Europe to Southern Europe, where the sun is stronger and ultraviolet radiation more prevalent. However, it must be a fair assumption that the growth in air travel has exposed more people to more sun for longer periods of time.
This is the point at which things become a bit more subjective…
Reason #3 – Women know and care more
I think it’s a fair statement that, even today, women care more about their skin than men do. That is a generalisation of course. But in totality, I believe it.
For years, Vogue magazine has been telling women how the sun ages and damages their skin. Women have listened. And indeed, make-up products and most women’s facial creams offer protection from the sun’s rays because it’s what female consumers have demanded of major cosmetics companies.
Reason #4 – Men are under served
If I asked you to close your eyes and describe sun care to me, I’m fairly confident the embedded image in our minds is a blond, tanned woman in a white bikini, on a beautiful deserted beach, with a child by her side.
For me, these are the semiotics of sun care.
Note how this image ignores men. It doesn’t talk to men. It certainly doesn’t cater to men. Men are under served following years of big brand brain-washing.
Reason #5 – Nobody has made anything men like to use
Connected to the previous point, I would argue the majority of men do not like most sun creams available in the marketplace.
Men have been underserved by the industry from a product perspective as well.
Thick, rich, greasy creams that smell of coconuts do not meet the needs of men. Accordingly, there is a rejection of a core sun protection product itself.
Reason #6 – The category is really confusing and poorly explained
As previously discussed, women are more knowledgeable about sun damage because they are more interested in their skin. Men are less interested and therefore digest less information.
It doesn’t help that sun protection labelling is extremely confusing.
UVA vs. UVB?
Various icons. Different numbers, stars, circles and symbols?
Chemical vs. physical?
Educating men is critical but finding a hook that interests them and engages them is crucial to changing behaviour.
In this broad discussion, the ‘why’ is less important than the ‘what’.
The reasons are less important than the actual data.
What matters is that the trends exist. More and more men are getting skin cancer. The growth is frightening. And this is a European problem.
Granted, in a world of endless challenges and troubles, it’s probably lower down on the list of things that media and consumers focus on. But if you spoke to a doctor or somebody working in a hospital, they would say it’s becoming a problem.
So, speaking pointedly towards men:
Wear sun protection. All year round. Wherever you are. Make it part of your daily regime. Then plead your best friend or brother to do the same.
If it helps, we have spent three years designing an amazing range of skincare and clothing products that cover all your needs and which you will want to use. We don’t mean to scaremonger but sometimes it’s necessary. We exist to help you and give you the tools you need to go out and enjoy life. To do the things you love doing outdoors with the people you love.
Whilst many of the other cancers we’re all touched by are much less controllable, there are steps you can take to prevent skin cancer. So, please start now.
Thanks so much for reading.