Skin cancer risk greater for men than for women

Inherent gender differences may be responsible for the higher rate of non-melanoma skin cancer in men than women, according to US research.

Previous studies have shown that men are up to three times as likely as women to develop squamous cell carcinoma.

In the past, this disparity was thought to be the result of lifestyle differences since men were believed to spend more time in the sun and use less sun protection than women.

But researchers have now shown that men may be more vulnerable to cancer than women following the same amount of ultraviolet (UV) exposure.

The study tested the effect of chronic exposure to UVB light on male and female mice. UVB is the part of the light spectrum that causes sunburn and contributes to the development of skin cancer.

A group of six male and six female mice were exposed to a fixed dose of UVB radiation three times a week for 16 weeks.

The researchers found that the male mice had a worse tumour prognosis than the females.

The males developed tumours two weeks earlier than the females, they had 50 per cent more tumours and these were on average 43 per cent larger.

In addition, 39 per cent of the tumours in the male mice were malignant compared with 18 per cent in the females, and 15 per cent of tumours in the males were fully invasive squamous cell carcinomas compared to just 3 per cent in the females.

Lead researcher Dr Tatiana Oberyszyn, assistant professor of molecular virology, immunology and medical genetics at Ohio State University Medical Centre, said: ‘This is the first time anyone has ever looked at the effect of gender on the development of UVB-induced skin cancers in such a controlled environment. It’s given us clear evidence of a biological basis for the gender bias in developing squamous cell carcinoma.’

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