Skin cancer is the most common cancer in New Zealand. Our skin cancer rates are among the highest in the world. In fact, the incidence of melanoma in New Zealand and Australia is four times higher than in Canada, the US and the UK. Research suggests that 2 in 3 New Zealanders will develop a non-melanoma skin cancer during their lifetime! More than 300 New Zealanders
die from skin cancer each year. Light skin type, a large number of moles and excess sun exposure (particularly episodes of sunburn), especially in childhood and adolescence, are the major predictors of skin cancer risk. According to the recent National Melanoma Summit 2011, New Zealand’s melanoma incidents are increasing and our death rate in women for 2003-2007 was 40% higher than in Australia. Our high ultraviolet (UV) levels and low ozone layers account for these staggering statistics.
There are two main types of skin cancer: melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancers. Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer. It can spread rapidly and can be life-threatening if
left untreated. Melanoma starts in skin cells called melanocytes. These are the cells that make melanin, which gives skin its colour. Most melanomas are caused by exposure to UV radiation from the sun. Non-melanoma skin cancers are far more common than melanoma. However, they tend to be less serious than melanoma (as long as they are treated). The two main types
are basal cell cancers and squamous cell cancers. They usually occur on areas of the skin that have been in the sun. They tend to be related to a person’s lifetime or “cumulative” exposure to
Get to know your skin by checking it regularly. Make sure you check your entire body. That way you can notice any changes that could mean skin cancer. If a freckle, mole or lump is changing in size, shape or colour or you have a sore that doesn’t heal, do see your doctor for a check. Skin cancer is diagnosed by physical examination and biopsy by the GP. Often photos are taken and kept in your medical records for comparison at a later time. Most treatment can also be done at the GP’s surgery.
Take good care of your largest organ – your skin from now on and keep skin cancer at bay. Also put on a hat and sunblock (sun protection factor- SPF 30 or above) before you go out to enjoy New Zealand’s natural outdoors.
Yours in good health - Dr. Ruoh Sim