by Dr. Iain Corness
Will Melanoma get you?
Shock, horror headlines in the Aussie
media last year claiming that tanning beds kill 43 Australians a year
through melanoma alone and are responsible for another 2600 annual skin
cancer diagnoses. That is certainly attention grabbing news.
Some basis for this also comes from a team at the Queensland Institute of
Medical Research that has estimated sun beds are responsible for 281 cases
of melanoma each year, the deadliest skin cancer. Overall, 43 of those
While researching an item on the cancers of women, I came across the also
somewhat disquieting figures that Malignant Melanoma has the second fastest
increasing incidence of cancer for women. In fact, the age-standardized
rates have risen by 46 percent in the last decade. Some of the apparent
increase may be due to increased surveillance and early detection as well as
improved diagnosis, but most is considered to be real and linked to changes
in recreational or holiday exposure to UV rays (including sunlight and
sunbeds), and we do get the odd bit of sunshine here in Thailand.
I remember the first time I went to a beach in Thailand and saw all these
people emerging from the sea fully clothed, that I thought the Thaitanic
must have gone down offshore. However, I later realized that Thai people are
not silly when they go fully clothed to the beaches to swim! It is generally
just the pale skinned farangs that go there to fry.
Having come from sub-tropical Queensland, I can tell you that the capital
Brisbane is these days considered to be the melanoma capital of the world,
and of all the skin cancers you can get, malignant melanoma is the worst. If
ignored and not caught early, it spreads throughout the body and almost all
of these sufferers die within 12 months. The generally accepted time between
late diagnosis and death is 10 months. That is despite heroic (and
When we first began to keep statistics on the incidence of melanoma in
Australia, it became quickly evident that the further north you went
(towards the equator) the greater the numbers of melanomas. White skin and
UV radiation did not go well together.
It did not need rocket science to see that perhaps the reason the indigenous
native aboriginals did not have the same incidence of melanoma as the white
settlers was linked to skin color.
However, human nature being as perverse as it is, the white folks want to be
brown (which is why solariums are popular in Australia) and the brown folks
want to be white (which is why whitening creams are the number one cosmetic
cream sold in Thailand).
However, the Thai people, even with their naturally protective brown skin,
do stay out of the sun as much as possible (standing in a line in the shadow
of the telephone pole for example), and have reduced their incidence of
possible melanoma. That is while we farangs, with our totally unsuitable
pink one-button birthday suits, stand in the sun’s rays as much as possible.
Having myself emigrated from sunless Scotland to Australia as a young
teenager, I can remember my Mum chasing me out of the house to get my shirt
off and get a “healthy tan”! How times and our knowledge have changed! And
we can thank all those medical professionals who have kept the statistics to
be used by the epidemiologists who could then impart these findings to us
all. Statistics which we hopefully take on board to take ourselves out of
The bad news about malignant melanoma you have already read above, but there
is some good news. Protect yourself by covering up and using a very strong
sun blocker of SPF 30 and above any time you are at the beach. And re-apply
after swimming each time.
However, if you have any dark colored ‘spot’ that has changed shape, color,
or become itchy you should get some expert advice from our specialist
dermatologists. It is too dangerous to ‘wait and see’. Catch it early
enough, before it begins to spread, and you can escape!
I get my spots and dots checked each year and have had a couple removed
“just in case!” I suggest you do the same.