Skin checks, mole maps, exploring NZ attitudes to skin cancer

Skin checks? Nah, she’ll be right mate

In a country with the highest rate of melanoma in the world, the seemingly cavalier Kiwi approach to skin checks is of real concern when it comes to skin cancer. Whether it’s a symptom of our busy lifestyles, a ‘won’t happen to me’ attitude, or the expense of it, New Zealanders are dicing with death when it comes to not getting checked.

In spite of around 69,000 New Zealanders getting skin cancer every year, a December 2016 survey shows only 3.8% of us are getting an annual skin check with a skin specialist.

Melanoma New Zealand’s CEO Linda Flay says that “annual full body skin checks are recommended but any time someone notices a new or changing mole, they should get it checked as soon as possible.”

Many of those taking part in the survey suggested that they knew they should get checked more often – and perhaps intended to in the future – but they also reported a number of barriers to getting skin checks. Barriers included cost, the inconvenience of having to attend in-person appointments and not understanding when something on the skin was potentially cancerous. Skin checks require a proactive approach to health – because, unfortunately, if illness symptoms have kicked in the odds of beating skin cancer are already significantly reduced.

The study also worryingly shows that even when we do notice suspicious lesions or potential symptoms of melanoma, fewer than half of Kiwis will actually seek professional medical advice. Instead many attempt to self-diagnose, look it up on the internet, adopt a ‘wait and see’ attitude or simply ignore the problem.

A new easy solution – mobile health technology

Technology and telemedicine have now combined to help to make it easy to get something checked. For the first time, consumers have direct telemedicine access to skin specialists. The Firstcheck app is putting a skin specialist in your pocket offering quick and low-cost skin check consultations with New Zealand skin specialists.

The Firstcheck mobile app is free to download and is free to map your moles on a mannequin – and provides the option of a doctor consultation for just $19.95.

Firstcheck also offers a low-cost ($30) ‘magnifying lens’ called the Firstcheck SkinScope™ which fits over the smartphone camera and allows people to take an additional high quality dermoscopic photo (like those taken by skin specialists) with their smartphone camera to be sent to the skin specialist as part of the consultation.

By making it easy to get something checked Firstcheck is already helping people catch their skin cancers before it’s too late. Able to be used from the comfort of home, and being low cost, means patients who are otherwise not getting things checked now have another option.

Co-founder Hayden Laird says “Mobile health technology will become increasingly common and is a feature of the Ministry of Health’s National Health Strategy. Firstcheck is proud to be offering a mobile health technology which is already being used by health professionals, and is now being made available to the New Zealand public. We’re effectively putting a skin specialist in every back pocket. We’re already seeing this simple-to-use technology improving access to the expertise of skin specialists and helping with the early detection of skin cancer – saving everyone time, cost and pain.” 

Melanoma Patients Australia advisor Professor Peter Soyer (MD, FACD) said “all efforts to encourage early detection of melanoma are positive, and assessments that include a healthcare professional [like Firstcheck] are better than a computer reviewed image”.

Mr Laird adds “together we can improve skin cancer outcomes for New Zealanders through the use of technology and by improving access to the expertise of our skin specialists. And what better way to use your smartphone or tablet, than to help save your life?”.

[1] A nationally representative survey of 500 respondents was conducted between 16-21 December 2016