Mole checks shouldn’t wait – doctor
Every year, about 82,000 Kiwis are diagnosed with skin cancer. They account for 80 per cent of the country’s new cancer cases and include six people every day diagnosed with melanoma, the majority of whom are aged over 50.
Despite this, mole checks to provide early diagnosis and save lives remain relatively uncommon. People visit the dentist for an annual checkup, but few do the same for their skin.
Skin cancer doctor Michael Morrison would like to see that change.
About 18 months ago, Morrison opened the Mole Screen clinic in St Albans to make the vital check-ups more accessible.
Prices are lower than at many places and patients are assured of seeing an accredited skin cancer doctor – that’s not the case at some mole-mapping clinics, which send away images to be analysed remotely.
Morrison says the good news is that skin cancers detected early enough are highly curable. But if left untreated, the cancer can spread quickly to other parts of the body.
‘‘This makes it very important to have your skin checked regularly, particularly if you are at high risk or have previously had skin cancer,’’ he says.
Most New Zealanders fall into the medium to very high risk categories, especially older Kiwis who grew up when fewer precautions were taken against the sun.
People with a lot of moles – over about 100 – are also considered higher risk.
For all people, though, any mole that appears after age 40 should be treated with suspicion, Morrison says.
How often people should get a professional check depends on the individual. It could range from every six months for the most at-risk cases to once every few years.
However, Morrison says anyone middle-aged or older who has never had a full-body mole examination should have a serious think about making an appointment.
Mole Screen offers two screening services: a 30-minute full body examination; and a full examination accompanied by whole-body imaging, which takes about an hour and provides a photographic record
of moles for comparison later using the award-winning AI software DermEngine.
‘‘One of the advantages of the photo software is it becomes much easier to spot changes or new moles very early on, which is extremely important,’’ he says.
The 30-minute examination costs $180, or $90 for children, while photo-mapping brings the cost to $250.
People can access their images for free through an app to make personal comparisons any time they want.
Morrison, who has also been a GP for 20 years, says he tries to steer people away from partial inspections where patients show their doctor only one or two moles they’re curious about.
‘‘You might be pointing out harmless moles and completely missing the small sinister one on your foot,’’ he says.
Mole Screen, 250 Springfield Rd, St Albans. To make an appointment or find out more, phone 03 355 9119 during business hours, or visit molescreen.co.nz. Support people are welcome at appointments.