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Turn Your Back to Save Your Life
 Men's Health Feature Story

Turn Your Back to Save Your Life
In men, deadly melanomas favor areas difficult to see on your own

Turn Your Back to Save Your Life(HealthDay News) -- Men can literally save their lives by turning their backs on their wives.

That's because melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, tends to occur in places that are hard to see on your own -- like the back or the top of a man's head.

"Most men in Western society depend on the women in their lives to mediate medical care -- nagging, scolding, reminding," Dr. June K. Robinson, a professor of clinical dermatology at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, told HealthDay. "And the places where melanoma occur more readily are hard for the man to see -- the back, the top of a bald head, behind the ears. With women, melanoma is more likely to occur on the lower leg."

Men should consider asking a woman in their life "to check for moles with border irregularity, color variation over the surface and with greater than 6 millimeter diameter," she said.

The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends using the ABCDE rule when looking for suspicious moles.

  • A is for asymmetry. Be alert for any moles that don't look the same on each side.
  • B stands for border. Most moles should have a smooth, uniform border.
  • C means to check the color of the mole. Be on the lookout for changes in color or more than one color in any particular mole.
  • D is for diameter. Let your doctor know if you have any moles larger than the size of a pencil eraser.
  • E stands for elevation. Any mole that is rough and elevated should be evaluated by a doctor.

In one study, nearly half of the men whose skin cancers were detected by someone else -- a physician, in this particular study -- had a melanoma on their back. The study, involving 227 men older than 40 who had been diagnosed with melanoma, was reported in Archives of Dermatology, of which Robinson is the editor.

The study also found that when a physician diagnosed the melanoma, it tended to be thinner, which generally meant it was diagnosed at an earlier, more treatable stage.

"We were trying to understand why it is that when a doctor finds a melanoma, it usually is thinner compared to a person finding it by himself," Alan C. Geller, a senior research scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health, who co-authored the study, told HealthDay.

The fact that a man is less apt to discover a skin cancer on his own body can, in fact, be life-threatening, emphasizing the need for men to get a little help -- from a wife, perhaps, or from a doctor who can conduct a full-body examination.

"We don't have any effective cure for late-stage melanoma," Dr. Steven Wang, director of dermatology and dermatologic surgery at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Basking Ridge, N.J., told HealthDay. "Only early diagnosis followed by complete removal can improve the prognosis," he added.

"This population -- middle-aged and older men who might be more cavalier about their medical care -- needs to be more aware of the danger associated with undiagnosed and untreated melanoma," Wang noted.

On the Web

To learn more about melanoma, visit the American Academy of Dermatology.

SOURCES: HealthDay News; Alan C. Geller, R.N., senior research scientist, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston; June K. Robinson, M.D., professor, clinical dermatology, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago; Steven Wang, M.D., director, dermatologic surgery and dermatology, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Basking Ridge, N.J.; April 2009, Archives of Dermatology; American Academy of Family Physicians (
Author: Serena Gordon
Author: Serena Gordon
Publication Date: May 31, 2010
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