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NZ sadly boasts the highest rate of malignant melanoma in the world at present, which can be fatal. Our beautiful country is surrounded by the ocean, with clear skies in general. The “hole” in the ozone layer over the Antarctic is a major factor - ozone is a natural UV-A filter – so we suffer from higher than usual UV-A levels in NZ.
Repeated sunburn, paler skin types and excessive UV exposure are relevant risk factors for skin cancer. Prevention is the best answer, but early diagnosis and treatment is highly desirable.
Most skin cancers are non-pigmented basal cell cancers (BCCs) or squamous cell cancers (SCCs). Although frequently occurring, many are not life threatening, but some are. Examination by a trained professional is important. Dermoscopy is an examination technique where the lesion is magnified under a good light source. This can determine features diagnostic of malignancy, or better still, exclude them. Digital photography is also helpful for surveillance. MoleMap is the only national screening system in NZ for this, and can be booked by phoning 0800 665 3627 for an appointment.
Treatment may include: cryotherapy - applying a cold burn with liquid nitrogen jet spray gun, but pale scaring may result; simple surgical excision or more complicated flap repairs; application of immune modulating agents; application of cytotoxic ointment such as 5-Fluorouracil or Efudix; nonsurgical treatment with photodynamic therapy (PDT); diathermy and curettage; or laser ablation with a CO2 laser. All these are available at the clinic.