Every year, we’re told to Slip (on a t-shirt), Slop (on some sunscreen), Slap (on a hat) and Wrap (on some sunglasses) – and there’s good reason for it too. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in Aotearoa. Around 67,000 new cases are reported each year*, resulting in more than 250 deaths annually.
Mr Isaac Cranshaw, a skin cancer specialist at Auckland’s Skin Institute, says summer’s not the only time you should be aware of potential skin cancer problems – you should be checking your skin for changes all year round.
“Neglecting an abnormal mole can be potentially life threatening,” he says. “In Auckland alone we see 150 patients a year who will fall into that category. People still seem to trivialise skin cancer, so the number of cases continues to rise. The good news is that almost all skin cancers can be cured if you catch them in the early stages.”
How to check your skin
Here’s the things you should check for when it comes to freckles and moles:
- A – Asymmetry. Melanoma will change shape and grow over time. It won’t be a perfect shape.
- B – Border. The border will be irregular.
- C – Colour. Most (not all) melanomas will be brown or black – but the colour won’t be constant throughout the mole and it may even change colours.
- D – Diameter. The moles you need to keep an eye on are usually bigger than 5mm (freckles tend to be smaller).
Other warning signs include a family history of skin cancer, and spots that are bleeding, itchy, painful or tender. As an aside, getting your daily dose of Vitamin D is NOT an excuse to sunbathe for hours on end! Between 5-20 minutes of sun exposure a day is actually enough to achieve your Vitamin D target!
Tips to help you stay sun smart
Try to wear sunscreen whenever you go outdoors (SPF15 is absolute minimum, you should really be using SPF30 due to our harsh New Zealand sun) and stay indoors or under shaded areas as much as possible during the sunniest/hottest times of day.
For more online information, visit www.sunsmart.org.nz. If you’re particularly worried about skin cancer or you have a lot of freckles and moles, you might want to look into getting a MoleMap done. There are also some clinics that do free skin cancer checks – so play it safe and don’t leave it to chance!
Image / FreeDigitalPhotos.net – Tina Phillips