Every day, around 7 New Zealanders are diagnosed with melanoma.
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in New Zealand. In 2012, 486 New Zealanders died from skin cancer.
It is important to detect skin cancer, especially melanoma, as soon as possible. Early detection generally gives the best chance of successfully treating cancer.
Types of skin cancer
Melanoma is one of the most serious form of skin cancer – once it reaches some deep layer of skin, it can spread very quickly to other parts of the body (metastasis).
Squamous cell carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common skin cancer. SCC is dangerous because of its ability to spread to other parts of the body especially when in the head and neck region. SCC can grow pretty rapidly with or without symptoms.
Basal cell carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common cancer in New Zealand and also the world. BCC tends to grow slowly (months- years) but can be locally destructive. The bigger it is, the bigger and more complex the surgery to remove this becomes especially in the head and neck area.
There are several risk factors that make a person more prone to the different types of skin cancer. These risk factors include:
- A family history of melanoma or other skin cancer
- Sunbed users
- Skin color ie fair complexion/light or red hair color
- Previous history of skin cancer
- Sun exposure with high UV radiation
- Sunburn burns and frequency
- Certain medical condition
- Certain drugs such as immuno-suppressants
Family history and skin cancer
A family history of melanoma increases your risk of developing the cancer yourself. In fact, about one in every 10 patients diagnosed with melanoma has a family member with a history of the disease. The closer the relative, the higher the risk. Each person with a first-degree relative diagnosed with melanoma has a whopping double the risk of developing the disease than people who do not have a family history of the disease.
What to do if you do find out that skin cancer runs in your family? Be extra vigilance for prevention, being sure to use sunscreen every day and avoiding unnecessary sun exposure. Visit your doctor annually for full skin assessments is critical as well.