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MAY 2016 | Published by RCPA

Issue #058

NZ pips Australia as melanoma capital of the world

NZ pips Australia as melanoma capital of the world

A study has found New Zealand now has the highest per capita rates of invasive melanoma in the world, knocking Australia out of the top spot in the process. It wasn’t a two horse race either. Six populations[1] were studied over a 30-year period from 1982 to 2011, with Australia the only population where melanoma rates had begun to fall overall.

According to Dr Patrick Emanuel, Consultant Pathologist at the Auckland District Health Board and Honorary Associate Professor at the University of Auckland, there are probably multiple factors why New Zealand is now in the hot seat.

“New Zealand doesn’t have as rigorous sun awareness campaigns as Australia, and we have been slow to act on things such as sunbeds and hats in schools. There are possible biological factors as well such as cell mutations related to sun exposure leading to melanoma, and the UV Index rating in New Zealand which can be very high.”

The UV Index (UVI) is a standard measure of sunburn-causing UV intensity. The peak UVI in New Zealand is about 40% greater than at comparable latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere because of differences in ozone, sun-earth separation and pollution. This is a key point, especially since Dr Emanuel suspects there is a perception that New Zealand doesn’t have a skin cancer ‘problem’ because it is seen as a cold southern country.

“It’s important to understand that New Zealand clearly has high rates of melanoma. We also have a higher UV Index rating in the Southern Hemisphere meaning the sun is much more damaging on the skin compared to the sun in the Northern Hemisphere,” he explains.

“Research[2] that I was involved with also found melanoma mutations were different between New Zealand’s South Island and North Island. The only reasons for this anomaly are the UV Index and habits related to sun exposure.”

It’s not all doom and gloom for the land of the long white cloud. The study also notes that New Zealand’s melanoma rates are expected to start declining from about 2017 onwards, while the rates in the other populations studied – with the exception of Australia – are predicted to keep increasing until at least 2022.

Sunscreen, shirt and hat anyone?

[1] Populations studied were Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Norway, Sweden and the Caucasian population of the United States.

[2] Dr Emanuel is a co-author of a paper titled NRAS and EPHB6 mutation rates differ in metastatic melanomas of patients in the North Island versus South Island of New Zealand published in the journal Oncotarget this month.


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