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Lethal Skin Cancer On The Increase

7 August 2008
News release
Embargoed – Not for publication or broadcast before 1AM 08/08/2008

Lethal Skin Cancer On The Increase

A report published today proves that the number of melanoma cases in New Zealand is rising, despite intensive awareness campaigns encouraging sun smart behaviour.

The report, published by New Zealand’s leading melanoma expert, Professor Jim Shaw, in the New Zealand Medical Journal, proves that the “slip, slop, slap” message is either not getting through, or that it is too early in the campaign to be seeing positive results due to the time delay between excessive exposure to sun and development of melanoma.

Professor Shaw commented, “A recent report claims that the number of melanoma cases in New Zealand has levelled out, however this is not the case if you take into account our changing ethnic make-up.

We have more Asian and Polynesian people living here now, and melanoma is very rare in non-caucasian people. If you take Asian and Polynesian people out of the equation, and look at the statistics for European New Zealanders, there were 46 cases per 100,000 people in 1996; 50 cases per 100,000 people in 2001; and 54 cases per 100,000 people in 2006 – a steady increase.”

Although New Zealand and Australia have the highest incidence of melanoma in the world, Professor Shaw said many New Zealanders, particularly older men, weren’t taking the sun protection messages seriously enough, still believing, ’it won’t happen to me’. He also stressed the importance of early detection of melanoma and getting moles checked regularly by a GP.

“Early detection is absolutely critical with melanoma, but many people, again particularly men over 60, don’t get their moles checked at all. If you notice any change in a mole or freckle, ask your GP to take a look or to refer you to a melanoma specialist.

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in New Zealand and, although melanoma is one of the least common skin cancers, it is the most lethal.”


Editor’s Notes:

• Professor Shaw has operated on several thousands of New Zealanders with melanoma. He was awarded membership of the James IV Association of Surgeons in 2001. Only 100 surgeons worldwide belong to the association at any one time and Professor Shaw is one of only three New Zealanders to belong to the society. Pioneering heart surgeon, Sir Brian Barratt-Boyes and WWII reconstructive plastic surgeon, Sir Archibald McIndoe have also been members.

• Professor Shaw was a Research Fellow jointly at Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Massachusetts General Hospital from 1981 to 1984, and was the first New Zealander to become a Clinical Cancer Surgery Fellow at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre in New York (1983/84).

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