Dr Elizabeth Baird, specialist dermatologist at Remuera Dermatology, outlines the relationship between UV, melanocytes in the skin, tanning and melanoma risk. She discusses the risk factors of skin type and family history in the development of melanoma.
TVNZ Television Archive
DR ELIZABETH BAIRD
The melanocytes in the skin produce melanin, so if you've got dark skin, you are going to have more melanocytes and produce more melanin – the sunshine induces the skin to produce more melanin. So most Caucasian people, when exposed to sunlight, will tan. A few very fair people who have very little melanin in their skin are disadvantaged. Having tanned or dark skin helps reflect the suns rays, but does not stop the absorption of UVA into the skin. The people who are most at risk of melanoma are blue-eyed, fair-skinned Caucasians who live in hot sunny climes, e.g. New Zealand. One of the other risk factors for melanoma is your family history. We know that certain families have a history of melanoma going through the generations. Most of those families have a condition called ‘atypical nevus syndrome’, which is where you have lots of funny looking moles in large number, and those patients can have an increased risk. If we can identify those patients, we can then keep more of an eye on them and hopefully prevent melanoma becoming more of a problem.