Men develop a common form of skin cancer three times more than women, but medical science doesn’t know why. But now a lab study suggests a possible reason: Their skin lacks a cancer-fighting antioxidant that women possess.
In research on animals, scientists at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center have found that males have lower levels of an important skin antioxidant and higher levels of cancer-linked inflammatory cells.
The antioxidant, a protein called catalase, inhibits skin cancer by mopping up hydrogen peroxide and other DNA-damaging reactive oxygen compounds that form during exposure to ultraviolet B light (UVB), a common source of sunburn and cancer-causing skin damage. Studies by others have linked low catalase activity to skin cancer progression.
“As a result, men may be more susceptible to oxidative stress in the skin, which may raise the risk of skin cancer in men compared to women,” says researcher Gregory Lesinski.
The scientists believe that similar physiological differences may also explain why men develop other cancers more frequently, too.
“Men face a higher risk of numerous types of cancers, and relatively higher levels of inflammatory myeloid cells might contribute to this susceptibility,” says Tatiana Oberyszyn, who also took part in the study.