Summer Sun Can be a Death Sentence for Kiwis

( More than 500 people will be diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer and 80 more will die this summer according to a top New Zealand dermatologist.

Dr Mark Gray, a skin cancer specialist and medical director at MoleMap, says despite constant public health warnings about sun exposure, a huge number of New Zealanders aren’t getting the message, or are simply ignoring it.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in New Zealand, affecting around 45,000 Kiwis a year, with about 320 dying from the disease annually.

Its main cause is over exposure to sunlight, especially sunburn, although family history is also an important risk factor, says Dr Gray.

“New Zealanders very much have an attitude that it won’t happen to them. But with the statistics as high as they are, and showing no signs of declining, people who continue to ignore specialist advice are quite literally gambling with their life,” says Dr Gray.

“As is the case with many forms of cancer, melanoma can often be without symptoms and, left untreated, can progress to other areas of the body. What is most frustrating from a specialist point of view is that more often than not, skin cancer is entirely preventable.”

Dr Gray says not only do Kiwis need to take extra care when out in the sun, they should also see a specialist as soon as they find a mole or lesion that is of concern.

He advises people to seek a specialist diagnosis immediately, preferably with a dermatologist who can refer unusual cases to a panel of peers straight away.

“It’s also important to remember that moles can easily change over time, so it’s vital for people to have their moles checked regularly and a clear and consistent record kept. That way changes can be easily identified and dealt with if they arise,” says Dr Gray.

Dr Gray says the following tips are recommended before heading out into the sun:

Apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes before going outside. Doing so will allow the UVR filtering ingredients to settle, dry and form a protective barrier on the skin.

Always follow the application method on the bottle or tube.

– Ensure the skin is well covered. About 30ml of sunscreen is needed for an average adult in each full body application.

– A second application should be done about 15 minutes after the first to ensure no patches have been missed.

– Always reapply sunscreen after contact with water, sweat, clothing etc to ensure that the sunscreen reaches its stated level of protection.

– Avoid sun exposure to the summer sun by seeking shade between 11am and 4pm during daylight saving months.

– A hat, loose-sleeved clothing and sunglasses should be worn when shade can’t be found.

Media Release 20 December 2011.