A child as young as 8 and others in their teens have been treated in Tauranga for melanoma, health professionals say.
Twenty-five people die of the skin cancer in the Bay of Plenty every year according to the latest figures from the Cancer Society.
However, parents spoken to by the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend reported while sunscreen was an essential item to protect their children against skin cancer, the cost could be an issue and some health professionals are calling for a government subsidy.
We would obviously be delighted if every child in New Zealand had access to free or subsidised sunscreen but we don't receive any direct government funding.
Toi Te Ora Public Health Service medical officer of health Dr Jim Miller said there was strong evidence that excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation during childhood and adolescence "is a risk factor in developing skin cancer later in life".
In New Zealand the number of incidences of melanoma and death were among the highest in the world - and Tauranga's many hours of sunshine meant the risk of sun damage was greater than other regions, he said.
It recommended precautions including "slip, slop, slap and wrap" - slip into a long sleeved shirt, slop on SPF30+ sunscreen, slap on a hat and wrap on a pair of sunglasses.
An online survey of the price of sunscreen yesterday revealed they ranged from $9.99 for 90ml of SPF50+ lotion to $48 for 150ml of SPF 50+ spray - with some in the medical fraternity saying they would support a government subsidy.
Grandmother of nine Suzanne Reid had sunscreen at home and in the car for her grandchildren and said while it was expensive "it's worth it".
"When I grew up we baked in the sun and put oil on" but the increased awareness about the dangers associated with the sun was great, she said.
The Cancer Society Waikato/Bay of Plenty spokeswoman Melanie Desmarais said it sometimes received requests for sunscreen from families who were struggling financially.
"We do what we can with limited funds and resources," she said.
"We would obviously be delighted if every child in New Zealand had access to free or subsidised sunscreen but we don't receive any direct government funding."
Dr Franz Strydom, founder of the Skinspots Skin Cancer Clinic in Mount Maunganui, said he had treated a 15-year-old at his clinic for melanoma but "the youngest person with a melanoma I know of in Tauranga was an 8-year-old".
Sunscreen was important but "the last line of defence in preventing oneself getting burnt".
The simple principle was do not get burnt, he said.
"Children are especially vulnerable to burns because their skin is still actively growing.
"There seems to be an increased susceptibility to getting skin cancers later in life, if one gets burned as a child."
Skin Dermatology Institute dermatologist Dr Ben Tallon said it had treated teenagers with melanoma at the clinic and "through my dermatopathology work at Pathlab there are rare cases in the under-10-year-olds".
Funding was a difficult area as "there are lots of pressures on funding in primary prevention of skin cancer".
"While I would fully support subsidised sunscreen I have a bias towards providing adequate sun shade in the form of protection in parks, playgrounds, pools and also for wearing hats."
The Ministry of Health did not respond to questions about the possibility of subsidising sunscreen but a spokesman said its most recent data showed in the Bay of Plenty DHB region there were 144 registrations for malignant melanoma of the skin in 2011, and 166 in 2012.
Between 1999 and 2012, the youngest registration for a malignant melanoma of the skin in the Bay of Plenty District Health Board area was in the 10-14 years age group, she said.