Early skin cancer detection could save your life

Early skin cancer detection could save your life
It’s a confronting fact that New Zealand has the highest incidence rate of melanoma in the world. If you haven’t had your skin checked before, or it’s been a while since you have, now’s a great time to book that appointment and here’s why…

According to the Ministry of Health, New Zealand has the highest incidence rate of skin cancer, with over 80,000 Kiwis getting diagnosed every year. While people with a family history of skin cancer, a weakened immune system, fair skin and freckles, and multiple or unusual moles face a higher skin cancer risk, skin cancer doesn’t discriminate, and it can affect all types of people, men and women, across all ages, skin colours and types, ethnicities and communities.

There are three main forms of skin cancer: Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) – this form of cancer can vary greatly in appearance, and people often first become aware of a scab that bleeds occasionally and does not heal completely. Some BCCs are very superficial and look like a pink/red flat mark, while others have a pearl-like rim surrounding a central crater. The treatment for a BCC depends on the size and location, and the number to be treated. Compared to other forms of cancer, Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) usually grows more rapidly. The key warning signs are a spot or bump that’s getting larger over time, or a sore that doesn’t heal in a few weeks. SCCs can be recognised in their early stages and are therefore easily treated. Malignant Melanoma (MM) on the other hand, can be life threatening if not treated early. Usually, the first sign is often a change in the colour, size, and/or shape or of an existing mole, or the appearance of a new mole. They say it is wise to look for the ‘ugly duckling’, which is a spot that looks different from your others.

Sound scary? Don’t worry, we understand how scary a prospect skin cancer can be so we’ve asked Skin Institute, for their trusted and expert advice on the best forms of skin cancer prevention and recommendation on how often we should get our skin checked. Skin cancer occurs when cells begin to grow at an uncontrollable and unpredictable rate. It occurs when DNA damage in skin cells is not able to be repaired. This damage is most often caused by ultraviolet radiation (UV rays) from sunshine or tanning beds that trigger mutations or genetic defects. This in turn causes the skin cells to multiply rapidly and form malignant lesions or tumours.

One of the best forms of prevention is to protect your skin from UV rays (UVB & UVA) with sunscreen. You should apply sunscreen every day 20 minutes before heading outside and reapply every two hours. It is still recommended that you should avoid being outdoors in direct sunlight for too long, but if you are, remember to also slip on a shirt, put on a hat and wear sunglasses to protect your eyes and skin around them.


  1. When choosing a sunscreen, Skin Institute recommends you start with at least SPF 30 and go as high as 50 if possible.
  2. Know your sunscreen’s key ingredients & when to apply it. You’ll want to ensure you have both UVA and UVB protection, so look for the term ‘broad spectrum’ on the label. Mineral (or physical) sunscreen works by using natural minerals zinc oxide or titanium dioxide to reflect UV rays from your skin. It can be applied before or after your moisturiser. On the other hand, chemical sunscreens use chemical compounds like avobenzone, octinoxate and oxybenzone to absorb the UV rays, converting them into energy and then safely filtering them through the body’s own cooling system. They are also great when you are really active, and planning to be outdoor for an extended period of time. However, it is best to apply this type of sunscreen prior to your moisturiser, in order to give your skin time to absorb it.
  3. Cosmetic products that contain SPF are helpful, but they should not be the primary source of sun protection. Cosmetic products with SPF don’t provide enough coverage to protect your skin from UV rays. To achieve the SPF on the label of your cosmetic products, you would need to apply at least 2mg of product per cm2 of skin (and reapply every two hours) to achieve the amount of product for it to provide the adequate protection that a regular SPF would provide.

If you’re worried that wearing sunscreen every day is going to have an impact on your vitamin D levels, Dr Marcus Platts-Mills, MBChB, Dip Derm Dermatology Associate at Skin Institute, says, “To maintain a healthy level of vitamin D, you need less than 5 minutes of sun exposure to your face, neck and hands. This is because only small amounts of UV light are required to trigger your vitamin D production. Sunscreens also do not completely block UV light entering the skin – about 3% of UV light still enters the skin with an SPF 30, whilst SPF 15 sunscreen filters out 93% of UVB rays and SPF 50% filters out 98% of UVB rays. This leaves anywhere from 2 to 7 percent of solar UVB rays reaching your skin and that’s if you use them correctly.”

Self-checking your skin regularly is important and necessary. However, it is not always easy to notice new or changing spots. Some changes are very subtle. You must also keep in mind that a lot of skin areas are hard to reach in order to obtain a closer look. It is recommended that we should get our skin checked every 12 months unless there is a personal or family history of skin cancer – your doctor will recommend the regularity of your checks in this instance.

You can get 1–2 moles/lesions of concern checked FREE at Skin Institute or alternatively, you can book a Full Skin Check with their experienced Nurse Dermoscopist team, who have been trained to focus on skin cancer detection. If you would like a full body skin cancer assessment, you can also make an appointment with one of their leading team of skin cancer Specialists or Doctors.


Book your Skin Cancer check today with Skin Institute.

Call 0800 SKIN DR (754 637) or visit www.skininstitute.co.nz


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