Being Sun-Smart

Here in New Zealand we are constantly being reminded about the dangers of skin cancer and the importance of getting your moles checked. New Zealand and Australia have the highest rates of melanoma in the world.

As sailors who spend a lot of time outside and in the sun, we are particularly vulnerable, so Andrew and I booked ourselves an appointment with a dermatologist and went along to get checked out.

There are a few options available for having a mole check. Firstly the cheapest and easiest option is getting your GP to have a look at any moles you are worried about.

Secondly you can go along to a clinic called ‘Mole Map’. This is quite expensive, and involves a technician taking photos of your moles and anything suspicious is then sent to a dermatologist to have a look at. This costs from NZD$130.00 for just a couple of moles up to NZD$379.00 for a full body go-over.

We opted to go to a dermatologist to speak directly with the expert about all things moley. This cost about NZD$220.00 for a standard consultation and NZD$420.00 if you have a ‘procedure’.

I am lucky enough to have been blessed with olive skin. I go quite brown, but will still burn in the harsh New Zealand sun, where you can literally feel your skin sizzling if you don’t cover up. I have only got a few moles, and the dermatologist declared me low risk, mainly because of my skin tone, and because I don’t have many moles, and no suspicious looking ones.

Andrew is a bit fairer than me, and coming from Australia, he spent his fair share of time in the sun as a child and has got a few more moles. He is religious about applying sunscreen though. The doctor gave him a good going over, and then decided that he didn’t like the look of one mole on Andrew’s head and so he said he wanted to take that one off!

Next minute Andrew was getting an anesthetic injection in his head, the scalpel came out and the doctor literally scraped the mole off his skull and put it in a jar. He invited me to watch, and I nearly fainted, but just managed to avoid doing so. I didn’t want to create a scene as Andrew was being so brave.

The dermatologist clearly likes his job as he was offering to slice or burn off all sorts of bits and bobs off our bodies – things that I had never even noticed before! We politely declined…

Anyway Andrew’s mole was sent off to a clinic to be analyzed, and we were given the all clear to go home, along with a bit more information about what skin cancer is all about.

You have a higher risk of getting skin cancer if:

  • Any family history of skin cancer
  • You have fair skin
  • You have got lots of moles
  • If you got burnt a lot as a child
  • You have ever used sun-beds

Early detection is the key to successful treatment. With our full check over now, we have got a good baseline to start with as we have a better idea of what our ok moles look like.

So how about you team up with your partner or a friend and have a mole check session!

To identify dodgy moles, follow the ABCDE of Melanoma:

Asymmetry: two halves of the mole are different from one another

Border: the edges of the mole are poorly defined. It is ragged, notched, blurred or an irregular shape

Colour: the colour is uneven with shades of black, brown and tan. Melanomas may also be white, grey, red, pink or blue

Different: from other lesions (ugly duckling) there is a change, particularly an increase, in size. Melanomas are usually bigger than the end of a pencil (6mm)

Evolving: changing

Other things to think about:

  • Melanomas can appear as a new spot or an existing spot, freckle or mole that has changed in colour, shape or size.
  • Sometimes melanomas may bleed or be itchy, and they may become raised quickly and catch on clothing.
  • While many melanoma are multi-coloured, they can also be white or the same colour as your skin.
  • Some types of melanoma develop over a period of weeks or months, while others tend to develop more slowly.
  • Nodular melanomas are a type that grow rapidly and need to be removed urgently. They are most often found on the head and neck and in older people, particularly men. They are raised, firm and often uniform in colour.
  • A melanoma that shows multi-colouring.

Here is a handy picture showing good moles on the left vs bad moles on the right.

melanoma-sulla-pelle

If you have got any unusual looking moles like the ones above – please get them checked!

Of course with all things like this – prevention is best so make sure you cover up in the sun, wear hats and sun glasses, and of course sunscreen. Getting burnt is bad!

There has been some recent research suggesting that some sunscreens can be harmful to coral, so if you are doing lots of snorkelling and swimming around coral there is some special sunscreen you can get that is supposed to be better for coral than normal sunscreen. You can either use that or cover up completely as Carolyn from the Boat Galley does.

Have you had a mole check lately?

 

12 thoughts on “Being Sun-Smart

  1. Don’t forget long cotton sleeves and pants! The Doctor told Noel not to go sailing (grew up in Aussie and fair skin – as a carpenter he was on roofs when young – no shirt… etc etc…. Noel not the Doc!) – Noel lives in cotton shirts, still has regular ‘burnings’ (moles etc burnt off) – all very important!

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  2. Yes, did about 3 months ago. Had a spot on my nose that wouldn’t heal, so the dermatologist froze it and it healed up just fine. Was just precancerous. I cover up because I’m so fair.

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  3. With both fair skin and a history of bad burns, I am one of the high-risk ones. And indeed, out of three suspicious moles identified by my dermatologists over the years, I have had one basal cell carcinoma confirmed and removed. Unlike the melanomas (and fortunately for me), the basal cell carcinomas are among the slowest moving forms of skin cancer. Unfortunately for me, anyone who gets one has a 50% probability of getting another. So, onward with those checkups.

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  4. Excellent post. As sailors, even in Canada, we spend a lot of time in the sun. Thanks for sharing this information. I’m off to closer inspect my lumps and bumps.
    Cheers

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