Elderly melanoma rates jump 6-fold
Sun, 30 Sep 2012 6:26p.m.
By Susie Nordqvist
Almost six times as many people over the age of 65 are being diagnosed with malignant melanoma than they were 30 years ago. Kiwis' slack attitude to skin protection is reportedly to blame.
A 15x13cm scar is a permanent reminder of Trevor McKay's brush with death three years ago.
“Initially I had headaches and my eyes were not focussing,” says the former melanoma sufferer.
Mr McKay thought he needed a new pair of glasses, when in fact he needed surgery to remove melanoma.
“It was after I banged my head that this little pimple came out on my head and it got really sore. So that's when I went to the doctor. He cut it out and sent it away and got the results of melanoma.”
About 2200 people are diagnosed with melanoma in New Zealand every year, and both men and the elderly are over-represented. According to the Ministry of Health, 2212 people were diagnosed with the disease in 2009 – 1197 were men and 1093 were over 65 years old.
And people aged over 65 are being diagnosed with the disease six times more than 30 years ago. Malignant melanoma in people over 65 was 35 per 100,000 in 1979. That number jumped to 210 per 100,000 in 2009.
“That age group probably wouldn't have had the same messages as children get now, and so they're possibly still not protecting themselves property,” says Jan Pearson, deputy chief executive of the Cancer Society. “And that accumulated sun damage and skin damage is going to cause more problems with skin as you age.”
The Ministry of Health says the numbers took a jump in 1993 when it started recording all melanoma cases. But the Cancer Society says the figures don't reveal the true extent of the problem because non-melanoma skin cancers don't have to be recorded.
“While it's not usually as serious as melanoma is, we know that an estimate we had done in 2009 suggested that $57 million is spent in the healthcare system on skin cancer, and about $51 million of that is from non-melanoma skin cancer treatment,” says Ms Pearson.
The Cancer Society says it will be another 30 years before those who have been privy to the “slip, slop, slap” message of the 1980s reach old age, and only then will we start seeing a decrease in the number of older people with the disease.
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1/10/2012 2:43:23 p.m.
The widespread deficiency of Vit D plays into the hands of cancers, as well as numerous other diseases. Sunlight, which produces Vit D, enhances our immune system and helps PROTECT us from cancer.
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