Kurt Bayer is a Herald reporter based in Christchurch

Kiwi mum petitions for free sunscreen as NZ overtakes Australia's melanoma rate

Australia's skin cancer rate has been steadily decline while New Zealand's rises. Photo / iStock
Australia's skin cancer rate has been steadily decline while New Zealand's rises. Photo / iStock

A Kiwi mother is petitioning the Government to provide free sunscreen for all children, after it was revealed that New Zealand has now overtaken Australian to boast the highest rate of invasive melanoma in the world.

A study by Queensland researchers found that New Zealand melanoma rates have almost doubled over the last three decades - from about 26 cases per 100,000 people in 1982 to about 50 cases per 100,000 people in 2011.

Skin cancer experts say the research should act as a "wake-up call" for the Government to spend more money on prevention initiatives.

Now, concerned mother Karen Mowbray is petitioning Health Minister Jonathan Coleman to provide free sunscreen for every child.

Over a New Zealand summer, Ms Mowbray says she spends $17 a week on a bottle of SPF+50 sunscreen for her three young children, aged 2, 5 and 7

"For some families, this is an expense which can not be afforded. Yet, it needs to be," she writes on change.org.

"Sunscreen should be free or at the very least, subsidised. It should be available for home and readily available in every classroom and childcare centre in New Zealand. Spray on sunscreen would take less than 20 seconds to apply to each child. Every child in New Zealand should have access to sunscreen."

Researchers from QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Brisbane found that while Australia's melanoma rates have been declining since 2005, New Zealand's rates are still increasing and are not expected to start falling until about 2017.

The study, funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) of Australia and published in The Journal of Investigative Dermatology, compared the rates of invasive melanoma - the deadliest form of skin cancer - in populations across Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Norway, Sweden, and the Caucasian population of the United States, from 1982 to 2011.

While study head Professor David Whiteman said that Kiwis have become more sun smart, more prevention work could be done, and for many older New Zealanders the damage has already been done.

"As New Zealand's population ages, the number of melanomas diagnosed will continue to increase," he said.

"Those people are developing melanomas now, many decades after the cancer-causing exposure to sunlight occurred.

"While it's good news that average melanoma rates in New Zealand should start to fall soon, the fact that the actual number of cases will keep rising is bad news."

Associate Professor Tony Reeder of the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine at the University of Otago, says that for more than a decade New Zealand has lacked high-level commitment to, and adequate investment in, skin cancer prevention.

"Despite growing evidence that skin cancer prevention initiatives can help avoid melanoma and save lives, governments have not been willing to adequately fund them," he said.

"Our politicians dropped the ball and unless there is increased funding and a high-level commitment, more New Zealanders than Australians will continue to develop potentially preventable skin cancers."

He criticised the Government for failing to ban commercial cosmetic sunbed services in New Zealand, in contrast with Australia which has "acted decisively to protect its population" by implementing a comprehensive sunbed ban.

Dr Ben Tallon, speaking on behalf of Melanoma New Zealand and MelNet, a network of professionals working together to reduce the incidence and impact of melanoma in New Zealand, says the Government needs to "get serious" about preventing skin cancer, with a serious commitment to funding prevention strategies.

"The study found that, while Australia's melanoma rates have been declining since 2005, our rates are still increasing and are not expected to start falling until about 2017. The Government is now facing big health bills as increasing numbers of people develop invasive melanoma," he said.

"This study should be a wake-up call. Skin cancer prevention initiatives are highly cost effective and an important public health investment.

"It's an investment the New Zealand Government must make."

The Government is also under pressure to fund melanoma drug Keytruda in New Zealand.

Labour wants Pharmac to be given funds to commit to new drugs like Keytruda -- which is funded in other countries including Australia and, for a set period while the drug's effectiveness is still being tested.

MELANOMA STUDY

• Melanoma rates in New Zealand increased from about 26 cases per 100,000 people in 1982 to about 50 cases per 100,000 people in 2011.

• Australia's melanoma rates peaked at about 49 cases per 100,000 people in 2005 and declined to about 48 cases per 100,000 people in 2011.

• Researchers predict that New Zealand's melanoma rates will start to decline from next year and reach about 46 cases per 100,000 people by 2031.

• Australia's rates are expected to keep falling to about 41 cases per 100,000 people by 2031.

• Rates in the UK, Sweden, Norway and the Caucasian population of the United States are predicted to keep increasing until at least 2022.

How can I be SunSmart?

Being SunSmart is about protecting skin and eyes from damaging UV radiation.

From September to April when outdoors:

• Slip into a long-sleeved shirt and into the shade. Generally, fabrics with a tighter weave and darker colours will give you greater protection from the sun. Some clothing is sold with a UV radiation Protection Factor (UPF) rating. Clothing with a UPF of 50+ offers superior protection and could be an ideal choice for outdoor workers.

• Slop on plenty of broad-spectrum (filters both UVA and UVB rays) sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 30. Apply sunscreen at least 20 minutes before going outdoors and reapply every two hours. Reapply more frequently if sweating or swimming.

• Slap on a hat with a wide-brim or a cap with flaps. This will help reduce the risk of sunburn to your face, ears and neck. These are the most common places where we get sunburnt.

• Wrap on a pair of close-fitting sunglasses. When buying sunglasses, look for the words 'good UV protection' on the label or swing tag.
Remember to always protect skin and eyes when you're in the mountains, or around reflective surfaces like snow and water, when UV levels are damaging.

source: sunsmart.org.nz

- NZ Herald

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