Skin cancer is a time bomb for New Zealanders
3 February 2015, 11:22AM
A leading New Zealand dermatologist says skin cancers are a time bomb for New Zealand’s ageing population.
Dr Louise Reiche, a member of the New Zealand Dermatological Society, has made submissions to the Minister of Health personally and on behalf of the Society supporting proposed amendments to the Health Act which outlaw sunbeds for people under 18.
Dr Reiche says dermatologists are seeing an increasing number of baby boomers with a range of skin cancers. People now in their 60s and 70s, spent a lot of time outdoors when sunscreens were of poor quality, less available and seldom used. Instead they used coconut oil which exaggerated the tanning process and put them more at risk she says.
Cancer Society NZ comments that skin cancers are, by far, the commonest cancer in New Zealand and currently cost this country about $123 million annually.
“The medical profession is run off their feet with people presenting themselves with skin cancers causing the public health system to be overwhelmed,” Dr Reiche comments.
“The waiting list is three to four months for urgent cases and, during the delay, the cancers are growing. This results in poorer health outcomes and more complex and expensive procedures.”
“People with private health insurance can get access to diagnosis and treatment earlier which is more successful, less costly and offers better long term monitoring to facilitate earlier detection of new skin cancers. This early detection means that health outcomes are improved.”
As well as baby boomers, Dr Reiche is treating young people, especially women in the 20s and 30s, with melanomas resulting from commercial sunbed exposure.
She explains that the problem with commercial sunbed exposure compared to natural sunlight is that clients typically lie completely naked on the sunbeds and expose skin to radiation emitted from UV lamps which can be up to 13 times greater than the peak summer sun.
She’s now treating people with cancer of the genital skin which is more vulnerable to skin cancer development.
Dr Reiche’s submission to Minister, Jonathan Coleman, supports a ban on sunbed use for people under 18 and encourages a complete ban. She also wants to see additional funding for the Cancer Society’s Sunsmart campaign to support sun prevention education for adolescents.
“We’re among countries which have the highest rates of melanoma in the world and skin cancer is the third most common lethal cancer for men and women in New Zealand,” she says.
“Commercial sunbeds offer no health benefits to New Zealanders. They emit more ultra violet radiation than at the peak of sunshine. International public health, laboratory and clinical health studies show that the use of sunbeds is now widely recognised to increase melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers.”
Dr Reiche also points out that New Zealand’s public dermatology lags behind the developing world in being “woefully under resourced”.
“I encourage the Minister to support funding for further training positions for dermatologists in public hospitals.”
In the meantime people should cover up this summer by wearing wide brimmed hats, suitable UPF (ultra protective factor) clothing, wrap-round UV protective glasses and applying and reapplying broad spectrum SPF 50+ sunscreen.
Dr Reiche explains that New Zealanders are more at risk than any other country because;
- The southern hemisphere is closer to the sun than the northern hemisphere during summer months because of the way the sun rotates around the earth
- The ozone hole over the South Pole affects New Zealand disproportionately and we have less pollution so the sun’s rays are more direct (ie less filtered than anywhere on the globe)
- New Zealanders find it more comfortable to be outdoors in our high temperate climate compared to other countries which have higher temperatures.
The CEO of Accuro Health, Geoff Annals, says that while the danger of sunburn is acute, radiation from sunbeds is even more dangerous than the sun at the height of a Kiwi summer.
“Accuro supports the amendment to the Health Act. We also agree with the New Zealand Dermatological Society that it should be extended to a complete ban on sunbeds,” Geoff Annals says.
“New Zealand and Australia have the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. Each year there are around 70,000 new cases. Over 300 people die annually from melanoma, more than die on our roads.
“We have banned cars without seatbelts. It’s time to ban sunbeds.”