Melanoma survivor's warning to Kiwis for summer

Kelly Dennett,
Publish Date
Friday, 29 December 2017, 6:59AM

It was a small brown spot no bigger than a thumbnail.

The mole looked inconsequential but when it turned black, Anthony Pearse's mum said: "You should get that checked."

The town planner had the mole removed on the spot by his GP who sent it for testing.

The diagnosis wasn't good - it was malignant melanoma and more tissue had to be removed.

He was told the chance of it returning was remote: Just 2 per cent.

That was in 2010 and Pearse moved on, albeit more weary of the sun. But last year, he discovered the cancer had returned in the form of a tumour and was in his lymph nodes.

Pearse is sharing his story with Herald readers to warn Kiwis to be vigilant, as ACC figures reveal last summer some people were so seriously sunburned they had to take time off work.

Pearse's warning also comes amid calls from Consumer New Zealand for better regulation of the sunscreen industry after its testing of 19 sunscreen products showed just nine met requirements for broad spectrum, and its label's SPF claims.

Pearse and partner Kirsten Doyle are encouraging people to be careful with their skincare and not to disregard unusual lesions or changing moles.

"It doesn't mean sacrificing being outside, it just means not spending six hours in the sun at the weekend," Pearse said.

Doyle agreed. "Look out for your family because you can't look at the spots on your back and your legs. If you notice any changes go and get it checked."

Sunburn injuries last summer prompted about 21 people to file an ACC claim, who were paid out more than $2000. Most of the claims were filed in December.

New Zealand has the highest incidence of melanoma in the world, recently surpassing Australia in the stats, which rival our road death toll.

In 2014, 2294 people were diagnosed with malignant melanoma, and in that year 378 people died from it - mostly men.

The road toll that same year was 293.

People with blonde hair, fair skin, who have been burned and have a family history of skin cancer, are most at risk.

"It was definitely a bit of a wake up call," Pearse said.

The cancer was graded stage three - four is terminal - and a golf-ball sized tumour was removed along with some nodes. The diagnosis was sobering.

"I thought, s***, basically," Pearse said.

"I didn't cry. I didn't really get upset, but I was down. I was in that 2 per cent chance. It's pretty slim odds for an otherwise healthy person.

"You think, when I'm 60 I'll get some bad news about my youth that's finally caught up with me. (Instead) it came in my 20s- and it was a shock."

Pearse underwent surgery and radiation, successfully eliminating the cancer, but now needs routine scans to ensure it doesn't return.

He's been told he has a 50 per cent chance of it coming back, and admits each check up is nerve-wracking.

"If it comes back it's probably not a good thing because a second (case) will likely lead to a third," he said.

The doctors can't say why Pearse has been so unlucky. He's always worked indoors, melanoma doesn't run in his family, and he's never spent extended periods in the sun.

"I was never a big sun person saying 'let's go tan'. Even as a kid mum was quite vigilant, we used to wear hats at primary school."

Pearse applies SPF 50 sunscreen before leaving the house, doesn't wear singlets, or walk around without a shirt. He and Doyle avoid the sun between 10am and 2pm.

"I've tried to remain positive throughout just because I feel physically good. I don't want to dwell, that doesn't help," Pearse said.

"The annoying thing is, you always feel fine. You don't feel any different from normal."


Thought to be the most dangerous form of skin cancer, it develops after skin cells are damaged from ultra violet radiation - from the sun or sun beds- which can lead them to multiply and become malignant.

If treated early melanoma can be cured, but if not cancer can spread to other parts of the body.

Melanoma New Zealand spokeswoman Sinda Hall said being "skin aware" and adopting good sun behaviour was the best way to prevent melanoma.

People should check their moles for asymmetry, border irregularity, uneven colours and change such as becoming elevated or changing colour or size.

For more information visit

ON AIR: Overnight Talk

12AM - 5AM