Melanoma Awareness, Skin Cancer
Living in New Zealand comes with glorious sunshine and the great outdoors to enjoy, but on the downside, it also comes with the risks of getting skin cancer such as melanoma. Did you know that our country has the world’s highest rate of melanoma1? It’s the most deadly form of skin cancer and astoundingly, around seven New Zealanders are diagnosed with melanoma every day.2
Along with exposure to sunshine and an outdoors lifestyle, there are a number of factors that can put some people at more risk of developing skin cancer such as melanoma. Before you panic, having one or more risk factors doesn’t mean you’ll definitely develop skin cancer, but it’s important to be aware of the risks so that you can adapt your lifestyle to reduce the risk.
If one or more of your immediate relatives has had melanoma, your risk of developing it is higher. In fact, you’re twice as likely to develop melanoma if there’s a history of melanoma in your close family (parents, siblings or children).3 A similar risk factor, known as personal history, means if you’ve had melanoma once, you have a higher risk – as much as nine times – of getting melanoma again.4
As you probably know, those with fairer skin are more susceptible to sunburn and have a higher risk of developing skin cancers. The Fitzpatrick scale is made up of six skin types that help determine your skin cancer risk. Types 1 and 2 refer to ivory or very fair skin with naturally blonde or red hair and light coloured eyes. People with these types of skin have a higher risk of sun damage and likelihood of developing skin cancers such as melanoma.5
Melanoma is more likely to occur in older people. Recent New Zealand studies tell us that if you’re over 75, you’re seven times more likely to develop melanoma than someone aged 25-44 years old.8
Not only that, most non-melanoma skin cancer (such as basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma) typically appears after age 50.
A mole, or naevus, is a non-cancerous, pigmented lesion. They often appear during childhood and early adulthood and generally are of no concern. But for people who have a number of moles, the risk of developing melanoma is higher, even up to seven times more if you have more than 100 moles.6
Unusual or atypical naevi have some similar features to melanoma. They are often larger and may have an odd shape or colour. For people that have more than five unusual moles, the risk of melanoma is six times higher.7 Check out the ABCE guide to spotting melanoma here.
If one or more of the above apply to you, what are some ways you can manage your risk? Quite simply, if you’re older, have fairer skin, a history of melanoma in the family or have a large number of moles, it’s important to be really vigilant about checking your skin.
Early detection is the best protection, so get to know your skin and moles – and check regularly for any changes. If you have any concerns, see your doctor straight away – and see a skin cancer specialist such as MoleMap every year.
And of course, good protection when you’re out in the sun is vital. A simple way to remember this is the SPOT rule of thumb:
SLAP on at least SPF30+ sunscreen every day.
PROTECT your skin – cover up or stay in the shade.
OBSERVE – look for changes in your skin regularly.
TRACK changes every year with MoleMap.
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References: 1. Health Promotion Agency and the Melanoma Network of New Zealand (MelNet) 2017: New Zealand Skin Cancer Primary Prevention and Early Detection Strategy 2017 to 2022. 2. MOH, 2017. Cancer: New Registrations and Deaths 2015. 3. Gandini et al (2005) Meta-analysis of risk factors for cutaneous melanoma: III. Family history, actinic damage and phenotypic factors. European Journal of Cancer, Vol. 41(14):2040-2059. 4 Bradford et al (2010) Increased risk of second primary cancers after a diagnosis of melanoma. Archives of Dermatology, Vol. 146(3):265-272. 5 Watts et al (2014) Clinical practice guidelines for identification, screening and follow up of individuals at high risk of primary cutaneous melanoma: a systematic review. British Journal of Dermatology, Vol. 172(1):33-47. 6 Gandini et al (2005) Meta-analysis of risk factors for cutaneous melanoma: I. Common and atypical naevi. European Journal of Cancer, Vol. 41(1):28-44. 7 Gandini et al (2005) Meta-analysis of risk factors for cutaneous melanoma: I. Common and atypical naevi. European Journal of Cancer, Vol. 41(1):28-44. 8. www.ehinz.ac.nz/assets/Factsheets/Released-2017/Melanoma-deaths.pdf