Dr Elizabeth Baird, specialist dermatologist at Remuera Dermatology, gives information on the risks of melanoma and other skin cancers in New Zealand compared with elsewhere.
DR ELIZABETH BAIRD
The risk of melanoma in New Zealand is significantly worse than the risk of melanoma in Western Europe. Some studies would suggest in Western Europe that your cumulative risk was one in 70 of developing a melanoma. In New Zealand, some people say one in 15. There does seem to be an increased instance of melanoma of people who have severe sunburn as a child. Whether your skin is more sensitive as a child, we don't really know, but that does certainly seem to be the case. We also know that you get 50 percent of your cumulative sun exposure by the time you are 18. So if you are brought up in New Zealand, you are going to have a lot more sun by the time you are 18 than if you were, say… were brought up in Scotland. And that has a huge influence on your risk of melanoma. UV light contributes to melanomas as we mentioned, but much more commonly in New Zealand we see basal cell skin cancers and squamous cell skin cancers, which are in a different layer of the skin from the melanoma, and those, to, are caused by sunlight, and of course with all the measures we have discussed, their instances can go down. Recent studies have suggested that two out of three Caucasian New Zealanders can expect to get a non-melanoma skin cancer through their lives. I think that people in New Zealand are very, very aware of melanoma. I think that most of the time, most people are taking reasonable care and taking heed of the messages that have been coming for the last 15 years. It will be very interesting to see what happens to the incidence of melanoma over the next 20 or 30 years – it’s been increasing dramatically over the last 10, 15 years – but hopefully these public messages we've been sending out will start to reap rewards.