Older New Zealanders Underestimate Their Risk Of Deadly Skin Cancer
By Rebecca Lim | Health & Medicine
August 9, 2011
New Zealanders aged 60 and over falsely believe they are at low risk of the fatal skin cancer melanoma, according to a new study.
AsianScientist (Aug. 9, 2011) – New Zealanders aged 60 and over falsely believe they are at low risk of the fatal form of skin cancer melanoma, according to a new University of Otago study conducted for the Cancer Society of New Zealand.
This misconception is surprising given the rising incidence and mortality from melanoma in middle-aged to elderly people in New Zealand.
Lead researcher Dr. Mary Jane Sneyd, from the University of Otago’s Hugh Adam Cancer Epidemiology Unit, says the study was funded by the Cancer Society of New Zealand to explore the attitudes towards melanoma across the age groups.
Dr. Sneyd studied the attitudes of a random sample of 777 men and women aged 40 to 70 and found that participants over 60 years old seemed to regard themselves at a lower risk of melanoma than younger people, and yet their risk was considerably higher.
“What we found is that in general, people are estimating their risk reasonably well on the basis of their phenotype, such as that if you are fair or red haired, and blue eyed you have a greater risk, and if you have dark hair, darker skin color and dark eyes you have a lower risk,” she said.
“But, as people got older, they saw themselves as having lower risk of melanoma and yet the risk of melanoma goes up greatly with age – as with most cancers.”
Data published in 2011 by the Ministry of Health showed that in 2008, of all new melanomas diagnosed, 58.8 percent occurred in people aged 60 plus, and only 2.4 percent occurred in people under 30. Figures from 2008 also showed melanoma to be the fourth most common cancer and the sixth most common cause of cancer death in New Zealand.
“Anecdotally, it seems that a lot of people seem to think that melanoma is a young persons’ disease. That is probably because the media have often concentrated on this age group, and promotion of sun safety seems to be aimed at the young,” Dr. Sneyd remarked.
“Yet cancer is actually quite rare in young people, it is just that when young people get cancer, melanoma is one of the most common types and it can be deadly.”
She said regardless of age, people need to understand that melanoma deaths are preventable with early diagnosis. Lesions that have been left too long become thick, greatly increasing the chance of the cancer spreading to internal organs.
It was also originally thought that excessive exposure to sun only as a child and adolescent increased the chance of developing melanoma. But evidence increasingly shows that over-exposure to sun in older years also continues to increase the risk of melanoma.
“Early diagnosis of suspicious lesions is crucial and excessive sun exposure at any age should be avoided,” Dr. Sneyd cautioned.
Source: University of Otago.
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