Live now
Start time
Playing for
End time
Listen live
Up next
Listen live on

'Get checked': Mother's mole warning after melanoma diagnosis

Megan Wilson,
Publish Date
Sat, 6 Jan 2024, 9:40AM

'Get checked': Mother's mole warning after melanoma diagnosis

Megan Wilson,
Publish Date
Sat, 6 Jan 2024, 9:40AM

Tauranga mother Rachael Pratt was 30 when she found a mole on her leg was “changing”. 

Fearful it might be skin cancer, she went to the doctor to get it checked. 

“It came back as being malignant melanoma.” 

The 43-year-old is sharing her story as Te Whatu Ora Health NZ data shows more people were diagnosed with three skin cancers in the Bay of Plenty region last year than the one prior. 

It showed 504 patients were diagnosed with melanoma, BCC (basal cell carcinoma) and SCC (squamous cell carcinoma) skin cancer in 2022, and 545 in 2023 between January and mid-October. 

“Very lucky” cancer had not spread further 

Pratt told the Bay of Plenty Times the mole on her right calf was the size of a “split pea” and had been getting dry, flaky “and a bit crusty”. 

“You pick the scab off and then moisturise ... and then it would still come back.” 

Pratt said she was concerned about the “changing” mole and saw her doctor. They excised the mole and sent it for a biopsy, which came back as malignant melanoma. 

She underwent surgery at Waikato Hospital to ensure the cancer had not spread to her lymph nodes. 

She said she was “very lucky” her cancer had not spread any further and the surgery marked the end of her treatment. 

However, “I still have a very big chunk of flesh removed from my calf ... it’s still very noticeable.” 

Pratt said it was scary thinking the mole could have been skin cancer and the associated treatment. 

“I’d just recently become a single mum so I had three young children.” 

Rachael Pratt had surgery after she was diagnosed with skin cancer in 2011, which was successfully removed. Photo / Alex CairnsRachael Pratt had surgery after she was diagnosed with skin cancer in 2011, which was successfully removed. Photo / Alex Cairns 

During her recovery, she had in-home care for her children and to help with household tasks for about four weeks. 

“I’m really lucky that New Zealand provides all that in the public health service.” 

Pratt said she believed her skin cancer may have developed when she was a child. 

“I’ve never liked the sun. I’m very fair ... but I guess when I was a kid, I would’ve built sandcastles on the beach.” 

Pratt said she had regular mole maps for the 10 years following her diagnosis and had a few more moles removed. 

“I’ve also been told that because it’s been so long, chances are it was just a one-off.” 

Pratt said she tried to avoid the sun and wear sunblock. She advised people to protect their skin and “get checked” if they had a mole they were unsure about. 

“As scary as it is that it might be something more nasty, it’s better to find out and get it dealt with before it becomes a big problem.” 

Skinspots founder and MoleMap chief medical officer New Zealand, Dr Franz Strydom.Skinspots founder and MoleMap chief medical officer New Zealand, Dr Franz Strydom. 

Sunscreen is ‘not an invincible shield’ 

Skinspots founder and MoleMap chief medical officer New Zealand, Dr Franz Strydom, said people were “relying very much” on sunscreen. 

“The most important thing about sunscreen is that it’s your last line of defence. It’s not an invincible shield that you put on and you won’t get skin cancer. 

“It’s something that will just prolong the time that you can spend in the sun and limit the damage ... but it doesn’t stop the damage.” 

Strydom said people should rely more on clothing and shade because sunscreen was “just a screen, it’s not a complete block”. 

He recommended wearing a hat because most skin cancers appeared on the face. 

Last year, Tauranga man Miles Spence told the Bay of Plenty Times he had been diagnosed with melanoma twice, and was now “a lot more careful”, donning “big-brimmed hats”, wearing sunscreen and using moisturiser which contained sunscreen.  

And Rotorua man Piet Otto said he believed being burnt when he was younger had caught up with him “later in life”. 

Check your body regularly for new or changing spots 

Information provided by the Cancer Society of New Zealand said skin cancer, including melanoma, was New Zealand’s most common cancer. 

“However, they can be successfully treated if detected early. Get to know your skin and regularly check your entire body for changes. 

“If there are any new spots, changes in an existing spot - shape, colour, size - or other skin changes, then advice should promptly be sought from a doctor.” 

Data from Te Whatu Ora Health NZ received under the Official Information Act received on November 23 showed 120 patients were on the surgical waitlist for BCC, SCC and melanoma excisions in the Bay of Plenty region. 

Fifteen people were waiting for an initial consultation appointment for suspected or confirmed BCC, SCC and melanoma. 

In the Lakes District, 305 patients were waiting for the removal of a BCC, SCC or a benign lesion. No patients were waiting for a melanoma excision as of October 19, 2023. 

Te Whatu Ora Lakes did not hold information about the number of melanoma, BCC and SCC skin cancer diagnoses because skin lesion removal was performed “within the outpatient environment under local anaesthetic”. 

Outpatient activity was not coded and therefore the information could not be provided. 

For the Bay of Plenty diagnoses in 2022 and 2023, only referrals triaged by a specialist as “confirmed cancer” were recorded. It did not include patients whose referrals were triaged as “high suspicion of cancer” but later went on to have a confirmed cancer diagnosis. 

Sun Smart tips from the Cancer Society 

Slip on a shirt - with long sleeves. Fabrics with a tighter weave and darker colours will give you better protection from the sun. 

Slip into the shade - of an umbrella or a leafy tree. If you can, plan your outdoor activities for early or later in the day when the sun’s UV levels are lower. Usually before 10am and after 4pm. 

Slop on sunscreen - plenty of UVA/UVB broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen of at least SPF 30 that complies with the AS/NZS 2604:2012 Sunscreen Standard. Apply 20 minutes before going outside and reapply every two hours and especially after being in water or sweating. 

Slap on a hat - wear a hat with a wide brim or a cap with flaps. More people are sunburned on the face and neck than any other part of the body. 

Wrap on sunglasses - choose close-fitting, wrap-around style sunglasses. Not all sunglasses protect against UV radiation, so always check the label for the sun protection rating.


Megan Wilson is a health and general news reporter for the Bay of Plenty Times and Rotorua Daily Post. She has been a journalist since 2021. 

Take your Radio, Podcasts and Music with you