Skin cancer – the ugly side of Summer fun

To give you an idea of the seriousness of the situation, in 2012, 486 New Zealanders died from skin cancers compared to 308 deaths in road traffic crashes … and the statistics are growing.

Skin cancer is caused by UV radiation damaging our skin. UVA and UVB radiation can get through the atmosphere and cause sunburn in the short term and skin cancer in the long term. UVB rays prompt vitamin D production but also cause damage to the skin, sunburn and non-malignant skin cancers, whereas UVA rays get deep into the skin to cause tanning, skin ageing and cell damage. The Ultraviolet Index (UVI) is a measure of ultraviolet rays. The higher the number the more sun protection needed. Even on a mild day in Hawke's Bay, the UVI can hit 10 (very high), the maximum being 11 (extreme).

A reminder …

Sun protection is recommended when the UV index is 3 or higher. Try the Uv2Day app or see the sun protection alert for today’s UV index. We all know the slip, slop, slap and wrap golden rule.

Slip into a shirt and into some shade. Clothes are the most effective barrier against UV rays, especially if they are made from tightly woven fabric, are dark colours and are loose fitting. Find natural or man-made shade and plan outdoor activities early in the morning or later in the afternoon.

Any tanning of the skin is a sign that skin has been damaged so it is vital to slop on a broad-spectrum SPF30+ sunscreen on all areas of the body, even on cloudy days. Apply around 35mls for an adult evenly to clean dry skin, 20 minutes before going out into the sun. Reapply every two hours and after being in water or sweating.

SPF stands for sun protection factor and indicates the degree of protection it offers against UV radiation. When applied properly, SPF30 filters 96.7% and SPF50 filters 98% of UV radiation.

Slap on a broad-rimmed hat or a cap with flaps and wrap on a pair of close-fitting, wrap-around sunglasses.

Will I still produce enough vitamin D if I use sun protection?

Vitamin D is made in the body when we are exposed to sunlight and it is vital for maintaining healthy bones, muscles and teeth. The amount of sunlight needed to make vitamin D depends on UV radiation levels, skin type and lifestyle. When the UV index falls below 3, some sun exposure, especially in the hours around noon is recommended, such as a daily walk or other outdoor activity. The rest of the year, most people will get adequate vitamin D through normal activities even when practicing good sun protection techniques.

Is it just a freckle?

We are more prone to skin cancers as we age or if we have fair or sun damaged skin, a family history of melanoma or a large number of moles, among other factors. If you are over 50 years, check yourself monthly by systematically checking each part of the body, including the scalp and soles of the feet. Signs to see your doctor ASAP are:

  • New or changing spots
  • A growing spot that is rough, dry or scaly
  • A spot that has become thickened and raised bump
  • A spot or sore that bleeds easily or is crusted over
  • A sore that doesn’t heal

A melanoma is a spot on the skin that contains cancer cells. The first sign of a melanoma is often an unusual looking mole or freckle that may be itchy, painful (or not) or tender. If you have a spot you are concerned about, look for:

Asymmetry, where one half of the spot is different to the other

Irregular Borders, where the edges are notched, uneven or blurred

 Colour is uneven

Diameter greater than 6mm

Evolution, that is, any changes in growth, new or raised



See your doctor immediately if you notice any of these changes. The “Skin Vision” app is an interesting app that allows you to monitor skin spots and analyse them, with an 81% accuracy rate. It helps you to know when to see your doctor to have certain spots looked at.

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