Health & Wellness

Men Are More Prone to Skin Cancer

A genetic predisposition makes men more susceptible


Men are at a genetic disadvantage when it comes to skin cancer, according to a study from McGill University’s Goodman Cancer Research Centre.

After analyzing data from more than a thousand melanoma cases, researchers found that men are more likely than women to carry genetic mutations that influence their body’s capacity to fight off the cancer.

Your risk for developing melanoma depends on gene mutations that result from extended exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and indoor tanning. You can also be genetically predisposed to experience these mutations if they run in your family.

“Of the three significantly mutated genes we found on the X-chromosome, only one gene had a specific type of mutation found only in males,” said Ian Watson, an assistant professor in the university’s Department of Biochemistry and the lead author on the study, which was published in the journal Nature Cancer.

Women were found to experience the same sort of gene mutation seen in men, but since they have two X chromosomes while men have only one, their second X chromosome served as a backup in the instance the other one became mutated.

“These mutations may help explain why male melanoma patients have higher incidence and worse survival rates,” explained Rached Alkallas, a co-author on the study and a graduate student at the university.

An estimated 8,000 Canadians are expected to be diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer this year, according to the Goodman Centre. Of those, 4,400 are projected to be men and 3,600, women; 870 of these men are expected to die from the disease, compared to only 450 women.

These key gene differences may also explain why women tend to respond better to immunotherapy during their treatment of the disease, Watson said. Further research is needed to determine if immunotherapies could be personalized to better respond to the particular mutations observed in each patient’s genes.

“Immunotherapy has been life-changing for many melanoma patients,” he said. “Unfortunately, a large subset of patients still don’t respond to this treatment, and we’re working in collaboration to understand where the problems lie in order to connect all the dots.”

Photo: iStock/AlexRaths.