What Men Need to Know About Skin Cancer in the Hudson Valley

Learn from the Tanorexic Mom and wear your sunscreen

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A top oncologist from Vassar Brothers Medical Center explains why year-round skin protection is essential—and lifesaving.

Men are more vulnerable to skin cancer because they’re less likely to wear sunscreen.

You don’t need us to tell you to slather on sunscreen religiously during summer—but once Labor Day rolls around, most people shelve their SPF. According to melanoma specialist James Nitzkorski, M.D., a surgical oncologist at Vassar Brothers Medical Center in Poughkeepsie, this is a huge mistake.

“The sun never turns off,” says Nitzkorski, who adds that although people with pale skin or who burn easily are at a higher risk for developing skin cancer from UV exposure, “everyone is at risk. About 10,000 Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer every day.”

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Men are particularly vulnerable, he says, because they are less likely to use sunscreen in general. “My male patients only start to pay attention [to sun protection] when they or a loved one is diagnosed with skin cancer,” says Nitzkorski.

two men hiking outside
Adobe Stock | Stillkost

While any skin cancer diagnosis is worrisome, melanoma is the most serious form. “Most people who die from skin cancer die from melanoma,” says Nitzkorski. Other types—including basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas—are much more common but not as lethal, although Nitzkorski says the treatments for those less serious skin cancers can be extremely disfiguring.

Once you’ve been diagnosed with skin cancer, you’re 80 times more likely to get it again.

The good news is that even though Nitzkorski isn’t seeing fewer patients with melanoma, mortality from the cancer is decreasing thanks to immunotherapy treatment—which was approved for use in 2011. “Immunotherapy has been a game changer. I’ve seen patients covered with melanoma tumors who are in remission within weeks. Immunotherapy modifies the body’s immune system to fight cancer cells,” explains Nitzkorski. “It has revolutionized the treatment of melanoma.”

That said, it’s best to nip any type of skin cancer in the bud by doing frequent self-exams (check out the chart below to know what to look for). “About half of melanoma is self-detected,” says Nitzkorski, “and the rest is discovered by a doctor. It pops up on your skin and you can see it—about 98 percent of the time, early, localized melanoma can be cured. If you see something, say something—a mole about the size of a pencil eraser can be lethal.”

In addition to doing your own surveillance, it’s smart to see your dermatologist once a year for a head-to-toe check (more often if you’ve had skin cancer in the past) and, of course, be vigilant about protecting your skin year-round. Nitzkorski recommends using an SPF 30 mineral sunscreen on your face and any exposed skin whether it’s sunny or cloudy. Mineral sunscreens physically block ultraviolet radiation with ingredients like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide and are not absorbed into the skin. Choose a brand labeled broad spectrum—meaning that it guards against both UVA and UVB rays—and keep in mind that sunscreen not only helps ward off skin cancer, it shields your skin from premature aging (aka sunspots and wrinkles) as well. “Sunscreen will help you look better as you get older,” says Nitzkorski.

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Related: Get Glowing With These Skincare Tips From Hudson Valley Experts

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