Go Spotty For Melanoma Awareness

Northland has one of the highest incidence rates of melanoma in the world and, with March being Melanoma Awareness month, now is a good time to get your spots checked, says a local general surgeon and consultant.

New Zealand has the highest incidence rate of melanoma in the world and Northland is identified as one of three regional centres in the country at the top of the list, says Whangarei-based general surgeon and consultant Nita Bartlett who has a special interest in melanoma.

“Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer. It can spread rapidly and can be life-threatening if left untreated.”

Northland, the upper North Island  and Bay of Plenty have been identified as being at increased risk of developing melanoma, given the longer sunshine hours, the strength of the UV radiation, the low ozone levels and a more outdoor lifestyle, says Mrs Bartlett, who has treated melanoma patients as young as 16.

“A large majority of the patients I see are male and have had occupations such as farming, fishing and building, exposing them to high doses of UV radiation," says Mrs Bartlett, who deals with primary, metastatic and recurrent melanoma.

This is backed by a Melanoma New Zealand spokesperson who says, “Male registrations are nationally slightly higher than women but, more alarmingly, is the death rate being very much higher for men. Assumptions are that men aren’t as good at getting checked and don’t go to the doctor as often (resulting in) more advanced melanomas.”

Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun is the main cause of skin cancers in New Zealand. People who work outdoors, such as farmers and construction workers, have a high risk of getting skin cancers. Even on cloudy days, the solar ultraviolet radiation level (UV light) may be sufficient to be harmful.

In New Zealand melanoma is the third most common cancer in both sexes and is more common in male patients. It is the fourth most common cancer in New Zealand.

Says Mrs Bartlett: “A prompt assessment of unusual skin changes by your GP, followed by a biopsy and referral to a surgeon, will, in most cases, mean an early diagnosis and better outcome.”

Advice from the Ministry of Health:

  • Prevention: The risk of melanoma is reduced by avoiding sunburn and protecting the skin against harmful UV radiation using physical methods, with the addition of sunscreens.
  • Physical methods of UV protection: Shade, broad-brimmed hats, clothing covering the arms, legs and trunk, appropriate sunglasses. Sunscreens should not be used as a replacement for physical methods. It is particularly important to use physical methods when UV radiation is highest. In New Zealand, this is between 11am-4pm during daylight saving months.
  • Check your skin regularly: Consult your GP for any unusual skin changes. If you notice anything new or changes, get it checked by a doctor without delay.
  • A biopsy is recommended for any suspicious lesions. The earlier the diagnosis, the higher the chance of successful treatment. Most melanomas detected early can be successfully treated by surgery alone.

Ministry of Health statistics for Northland (2011/2012)

Newly diagnosed 'melanoma and other malignant neoplasms of skin' for Northland patients. 















Go Spotty This Friday

This Friday is ‘Go Spotty’ mufti day in the school and workplace to raise awareness of melanoma which affects over 4000 kiwis every year.

As part of Melanoma awareness month, Melanoma New Zealand is encouraging everyone to wear something spotty or dotty to get people checking their skin for spots or signs that could lead to melanoma later in life.

For more information, go to:

A Farmer’s Story

After having a large chunk of his heel removed, Gavin Dacombe won’t be able to walk the same again. However, he doesn’t mind, he’s just thankful to be here.

The 72-year-old former dairy farmer and (still current) musician has survived three heart attacks a stroke and, more recently, melanoma.

This month marks melanoma awareness. According to Ministry of Health statistics, the melanoma death rate is much higher for men than women - the assumption being that men do not seek medical treatment on time.

Mr Dacombe of Ruawai admits to falling into this category after noticing a dark spot on the heel of his foot which he initially thought was a stone bruise.

“I knew I had a problem with my foot but I kept putting it off as we do but really I was forced into doing something about it by (wife) Diane because us guys don’t like going to the doctor and being sick.”

Mr Dacombe says the doctor ‘freaked out’ when he first saw the spot in November last year and booked him smartly in for an operation.

“I don’t worry about things like that. I’ve had three heart attacks and a stroke so far and I’m still here. You get one miracle after another.”

The operation was a success – the cancer, a primary melanoma, was not found in the bone - although the recovery time has been slow.

“I now walk on the ball of my foot which buggers the hips a bit, it puts them out of alignment,” Mr Dacombe explains. “I’m still hobbling around and won’t be able to walk the same again. At least I’m not still farming – that would have been horrendous in my gumboots.”

Although Mr Dacombe is at a loss to explain how the spot appeared underneath his foot, he has since found numerous other dark spots on his body, which he is about to get checked, and puts down to spending years on the tractor with no hat or sunscreen.

“I’d say it has a lot to do with being outside and in Northland too. Being farmers, sitting outside on tractors all day doesn’t help you.”

Mr Dacombe’s advice to others is: “If you’ve got any spots or if anything comes up on your skin, go and get it checked out because, all of a sudden, it’s too late.”

Although he’s toned down the farming side of things, the couple still live on a lifestyle block and are key members of the long-serving R&B Connection band which plays rock n roll, jazz and blues all over Northland. They also teach drama to students and carry out charity fundraising.

“I was pretty close to death at one stage. I was nearly there but they wouldn’t let me through the gates so they’ve sent me back to do something and I think it’s to do with working with children.

“I’m back here for a reason, I know that.” ​

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