In New Zealand, more than 90 per cent of all skin cancer cases are attributed to excess sun exposure. It’s the most common cancer for those aged 15 to 39, making up 20 per cent of all cancer cases in that age group. “Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer,” says Professor Sanchia Aranda, the Chief Executive of Cancer Council Australia. “Melanoma can appear as a new or existing spot, freckle or mole that changes in colour, size or shape. It can grow anywhere on the body – not just areas exposed to the sun.”
Non-melanoma skin cancers are the most common cancers in New Zealand, but most are not life-threatening if treated. “Left untreated, these cancers may require extensive surgery that can be disfiguring, especially on the face, head or neck,” says Professor Aranda. “There are two main types. Basal cell carcinoma can look like small, round or flattened spots that are red, pale or pearly. Some are scaly like eczema. These can be small on the surface, but can grow deep. These tend not to spread [metastasise]. Squamous cell carcinomas are usually scaly red areas that may bleed easily, ulcers or non-healing sores that are often painful, especially when touched. These cancers can spread to other parts of the body.”
“Skin cancer is one of the few cancers that can be identified with the naked eye,” says Dr Nicholas Stewart. “Look at your skin [or your partner’s or family member’s skin] and take note of all the spots, from freckles and moles to age spots. The first sign of cancer is usually the appearance of a new spot that stands out from other spots, or a change in an existing freckle or mole – the so-called ‘ugly duckling sign’.”
A Asymmetry (a mole that is not even in shape, contours and colouring).
B Border (irregular, jagged borders).
C Colour (such as brown, red, white or black).
D Diameter (greater than 6mm).
E Evolution (a mole that rapidly changes in shape, size, thickness or colour).
In the past few years there has been a move towards SPF 50+ sunscreens. This is because the Therapeutic Goods Administration announced a new standard for sunscreens in November 2012, increasing the maximum sun protection factor (SPF) from 30+ to 50+.