Don’t cool off on skin checks this winter. 

WORDS DEE ELWOOD / PHOTO SUPPLIED 

By all means, dress for winter, but be sure not to keep your skin completely under wraps. When it comes to targeting skin cancer and suspicious lesions, the chilly season is a great time to attend to your skin. 

“Winter’s a good time to get your skin professionally checked,” says Da Vinci Clinic dermatologist and skin specialist Dr Amy Stanway. “When we layer up in winter, we’re less likely to notice changes in moles, new moles and unusual skin behaviour, but skin cancer is not a case of out of sight, out of mind.” 

Although the most common skin cancers are basal cell carcinomas, which are typically relatively slow growing, squamous cell carcinomas and melanomas can grow rapidly. New Zealand has one of the highest rates of melanoma in the world. According to 2018’s skin cancer index, published by Derma Plus, close to 2500 new cases are diagnosed in Aotearoa every year. 

“Melanoma can strike at any age,” says Amy. “The risk of dying from melanoma is intrinsically related to the depth of the cancer. The deeper the tumour growth, the greater the risk of spread. Melanoma can present itself on any part of the body and spread rapidly too, which is why skin specialists are so adept at examining all hidden areas.” 

Just how invasive can melanoma be? Findings from a 2006 Rate of Growth in Melanomas study – combining data from three melanoma referral centres and two private dermatology practices – revealed the vertical growth rate of nodular melanoma can be 0.49mm a month, becoming invasive within three months. 

If you’re relying on your genes to keep you cancer free, remember, there’s no guarantee. Researchers at New York’s Cornell University have found that certain people have genetic mutations – accumulated in melanocyte stem cells – that can become cells where cancer originates. This means everything could be fine and dandy until you get sunburnt, triggering those cells. 

“It’s important we don’t push skin checks further down the to-do list – prioritise them all year round,” says Amy. “Self-checking for any new spots or changing moles is a must too, so enlisting an experienced team to guide you through the correct measures and means to stay skin aware is essential.” 

You’ll find Da Vinci Clinic at 727 Cameron Road, Tauranga, on 07 578 5350 and at: 
DAVINCICLINIC.CO.NZ