A new study has confirmed what a lot of New Zealanders already know - our sun is so damn harsh. 

A new study in publication, JAMA Dermatology, found New Zealand had the highest melanoma death rate in 2020. 

Alongside Australia, New Zealand also had the highest number of cases of melanoma in 2020. 

These high case rates were followed by Western Europe, North America, and Northern Europe. Melanoma was rare in most African and Asian countries, the researchers say. 

The researchers also predict cases of melanoma will rise 50 percent globally by 2040.

The study estimated there was a worldwide total of 325,000 new melanoma cases and 57,000 deaths in 2020. 

The study predicted that in 2040, this will increase to 510,000 new cases and 96,000 deaths (a 68 percent increase).

Skin cancer overwhelming health system

Amanda Oakley, a dermatologist and adjunct associate professor at the University of Auckland, says this isn’t news to melanoma experts in New Zealand. 

“Not only are our incident and mortality rates high (especially in males more than 50 years old), but we have a burgeoning ageing population of white New Zealanders (baby boomers) that baked in the sun during their youth or have worked outdoors with little protection from sunburn or daily relentless ultraviolet radiation.”

Oakley says this group makes up to 90 percent of melanoma cases in the country.

She says while new immunotherapy drugs are helping more patients with advanced melanoma survive, who would have otherwise died a few years ago, skin cancer is overwhelming the health system. 

This is due to a lack of prevention efforts and a shortage of dermatologists, surgical specialists and GPs trained in skin cancer. 

There are also fewer treatments for melanoma in New Zealand compared to other countries despite having the highest mortality rate in the world. 

More investment needed to reduce risk factors

Dr Geri McLeod, from the University of Otago in Christchurch, says “education campaigns such as the successful SunSmart programs launched in Australia need to be continued”.

The study sends a clear message to the New Zealand government that more investment is needed to reduce risk factors for the development of melanoma, McLeod says.

“The easiest way to protect yourself from excess UV radiation is to restrict outdoor activity when UV radiation is at a peak, usually a few hours either side of midday.”

“To properly protect the skin from excess UV radiation when outdoors, we need to use a physical cover such as a shirt and hat, in addition to seeking shade where practical,” McLeod says.

“The use of sunscreen should only be an adjunct form of sun protection, rather than the main/only form of sun protection used.”

Did you know that despite New Zealand having the highest mortality rate for melanoma in the world, sunscreen in New Zealand is twice the price compared to sunscreen in Australia? 

Re: journalist Zoe Madden-Smith investigates why this is in the video below. 

Top image: Older couple sitting in chairs on beach. (File photo) Photo: Getty Images.

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