MONDAY, May 20, 2019 (HealthDay News) — For all of those men who view a mustache as a largely ornamental addition to their masculine appearance, a new study reveals it can also guard against lip cancer.
“Mustaches seem to protect the lip the same way that hair protects the scalp,” explained study author Dr. Daniel Aires. He is director of dermatology with the University of Kansas Health System. “While this makes intuitive sense, it had not been tested before.”
To do just that, Aires and his team examined 200 male patients who had already been diagnosed with a precancerous condition known as actinic keratosis on the head or face.
“Actinic keratosis is a scaly spot on the skin that can develop into a dangerous cancer called squamous cell carcinoma,” Aires explained. “Since lip skin is so thin, lip actinic keratoses can invade and become deadly faster than actinic keratoses elsewhere on the skin.”
Roughly 3 million Americans are diagnosed with actinic keratosis each year, he noted, accounting for one of every seven dermatology visits. But, “likely many more go undiagnosed and untreated, since studies estimate that more than 10% of adults have actinic keratosis,” he added.
Nearly 60 of the men in the study had a long history of sporting substantial “sheltering” mustaches, meaning mustaches that are at least 9 millimeters thick (about a third of an inch).
In the end, Aires and his colleagues determined that years of mustache-wearing ultimately translated into a 16 times lower risk for developing actinic keratosis on their lower lip, compared with their mustache-free peers. The finding held up even after accounting for other risk factors, such as family history of skin cancer, a personal history of sunburns, a smoking habit, and/or age.
The American Academy of Dermatology points out that once someone develops this cancer, their lifetime risk for recurrence goes up. And experts warn that, if left untreated, actinic keratosis can lead to squamous cell carcinoma.
This type of cancer often affects the outer layer of skin, around the lips, ears, bald scalp and shoulders. It can also affect the moist lining of the inner mouth, nose and throat. From there it can spread.