Melanoma rates highest in the world

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Kiwis need to be more mindful about the Slip, Slop, Slap message: Queensland researchers have found that New Zealand now has the highest per capita rates of invasive melanoma in the world after overtaking Australia. Invasive melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, which is capable of spreading to other parts of the body.

The study was conducted by researchers from QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Brisbane and has been published in The Journal of Investigative Dermatology.

The researchers found that while Australia’s melanoma rates have been declining since 2005, New Zealand’s rates are still increasing and are not expected to start falling until about 2017.

“New Zealanders have become more ‘sun smart’ as they have become more aware of the dangers of melanoma, but more could be done,” said lead researcher, Professor David Whiteman.

There is also a lag effect, with melanoma incidence occurring most commonly in older New Zealanders who sustained skin damage before the safety messages were developed.

“Unfortunately for older New Zealanders alive today, most will have already sustained significant amounts of sun damage before the prevention campaigns were introduced. Those people are developing melanomas now, many decades after the cancer-causing exposure to sunlight occurred,” Professor Whiteman said.

“As New Zealand’s population ages, the number of melanomas diagnosed will continue to increase.”

More melanoma funding needed

In response to the study, health experts are calling for additional melanoma funding.

MelNet member Associate Professor Tony Reeder of the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine at the University of Otago, says for more than a decade New Zealand has lacked high-level commitment to, and adequate investment in, skin cancer prevention.

“Despite growing evidence that skin cancer prevention initiatives can help avoid melanoma and save lives, governments have not been willing to adequately fund them.

“This is despite skin cancer being identified in 2002 by the Expert Working Group on Cancer Primary Prevention as a priority for The New Zealand Cancer Control Strategy.

Dr Ben Tallon, speaking on behalf of MelNet and Melanoma New Zealand says the time has come for the Government to get serious about preventing skin cancer – with a serious commitment to funding prevention strategies.

“This study should be a wake-up call. Skin cancer prevention initiatives are highly cost effective and an important public health investment. It’s an investment the New Zealand Government must make.”

Staying sun safe

When it comes to sun protection there are four golden rules: slip, slop, slap and wrap.

Slip

on some protective clothing and into some shade;

Slop

on plenty of sunscreen. Preferably choose a sunscreen that has a broad spectrum sun protection

factor (SPF) rating of 30+;

Slap

on a hat. Preferably a dark, tightly-woven hat with a broad brim.

Wrap

some sunglasses on your face.

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