New Zealand has overtaken Australia in melanoma and this has pointed to the need for stronger commitment to sun-smart  policies.

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer. It starts in melanocytes, the cells that produce pigment melanin which colours our skin, hair and eyes. Thus,  sun-smart policies are essential to prevent it.

A study by Queensland researchers has found that over the last three decades the country’s melanoma rate has doubled. In 1982, there were 26 cases per 100,000 people. But in 2011, the number jumped to 50 cases per 100,000 people, reported

The experts compared six countries melanoma rates which included Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Norway, Sweden, and the Caucasian population of the United States.

The researchers also discovered that in 1982 Australia’s melanoma rate was 30 cases per 100,000 people and it jumped to 49 cases per 100,000 people in 2005. But the rate declined to 48 cases per 100,000 people in 2011, reported ABC.

Professor David Whiteman, who led the research team, attributed the decreasing rate of Australia’s Melanoma cases to prevention campaigns run by the government.

He said, “Australians have become more ‘sun smart’ as they have become more aware of the dangers of melanoma and other skin cancers. Schools, workplaces and childcare centres have also introduced measures to decrease exposure to harmful UV radiation.”

Talking about rate of the disease among older people in Australia he said, “Unfortunately, rates of melanoma are still increasing in people over the age of about 50.”

He noted, “This is probably because many older people had already sustained sun damage before the prevention campaigns were introduced, and those melanomas are only appearing now, many decades after the cancer-causing exposure to sunlight occurred.”

Skin cancer experts warned that it is a “wake-up call” for the New Zealand government. Dermatologist Ben Tallon said that there is a clear gap between Australia and Newzealand’s melanoma rate.

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said that the higher rate of melanoma among New Zealanders was not surprising. He also affirmed that a lot had already been done to reduce the rate.

He said, “Most schools you’ll go to in New Zealand, if not all schools, will require kids to wear hats when they’re playing outside, they have shaded areas.”

According to a recent study conducted by researchers from the University of Texas Health Science Centre at Houston (UTHealth), smartphone microscopes can help in detecting skin cancer. The study could help  the three million non-melanoma skin cancer patients and the 132,000 melanoma skin cancer patients diagnosed annually.