New Zealand's Skin Cancer Rate Called A 'Timebomb' Waiting To Explode

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Sunbathing at the Beach
A man sunbathes on rocks at a beach in Melbourne January 31, 2009. REUTERS/MICK TSIKAS

A top dermatologist in New Zealand has called skin cancer in the country a “time bomb” waiting to explode on the ageing population. Dermatologists have noted an increasing number of skin cancer cases among the elderly.

Dr Louise Reiche, a member of the New Zealand Dermatological Society, has expressed support for the proposed amendments to the Health Act in behalf of the society. She has made submissions to the Minister of Health personally. The proposed amendment will outlaw the use of sunbeds for people under 18 years of age, NZ Doctor news reported.

According to Reiche, people between 60 and 70 years old had spent time outdoors at a time when sunscreens were of poor quality. Instead of sunscreen, they used coconut oil to exaggerate the tanning process. Dermatologists believe the use of coconut oil had out the elderly at risk.

Cancer Society NZ said skin cancer is the most common cancer in the country. Skin cancer is costing the New Zealand government $123 million every year. Reiche said doctors have noted the rising number of patients with skin cancer that resulted in the public health system being “overwhelmed.”

She said patients with urgent cases and rely on the public health system are put on the waiting list for at least three to four months. During the waiting period, the cancer may have grown, prompting poorer health outcomes that require more expensive procedures. However, Kiwis with private health insurance can have faster access to treatment which is more successful in eliminating the condition and less costly.

Aside from the baby boomers, Reiche also treats young patients particularly women in their 20s and 30s who have melanomas as a result of sun exposure while on commercial sunbeds. She explained that commercial sunbed exposure is more risky than natural sunlight because people usually lie naked and expose skin to radiation from UV lamps.

Reiche’s submission will support a ban on sunbeds for people under the age of 18, Newstalk reports. She also wants to request for more funds for the Sunsmart campaign of the Cancer Society to educate young people on sun exposure. The doctor said New Zealand has one of the highest rates of melanoma in the world and it is only right that the government should improve the resources of public dermatology in the country. She called on the health minister to support funding to train dermatologists in public hospitals. 

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