Cancer caution after spike in UV ray levels

BRONWYN TORRIE AND MATT STEWART
Last updated 05:00 05/03/2013

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A sun-drenched summer has prompted doctors to recommend skin cancer checks after a spike in ultraviolet rays.

Wellington was the brightest big city last month and also had its sunniest February since records began in 1928, clocking 281 sunshine hours.

The monthly climate summary by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (Niwa) showed the capital was also the wettest, while Auckland was the warmest, Dunedin the coolest and Christchurch the driest.

More sun means more ultraviolet radiation beaming down on people - in particular UVB rays, which are more severe between 10am-4pm during the hottest months, skin cancer specialist Mark Gray says.

Skin cancer monitoring service MoleMap analysed Niwa data and found a 17 per cent increase in the UV radiation index from mid-December to the end of February, compared with the same period last year, Dr Gray said.

"UVA can penetrate glass and clouds, and can initiate and also increase the growth of skin cancers. UVB is responsible for burning, tanning, the acceleration of skin ageing and plays a significant role in the development of skin cancer."

Niwa atmospheric scientist Ben Liley said the UV increase was because of the hot, dry summer and less cloud, rather than any "radical change" in the ozone layer.

Skin cancer killed about 400 people each year, with melanoma being the most serious, Dr Gray said. The best protection was shade, clothing and sunblock.

Regular skin assessments by a doctor could also reduce the risk of cancer developing, he said.

His advice comes as the golden conditions continue into autumn.

MetService yesterday forecast another prolonged period of fine weather for the lower North Island. After cloudy days today and tomorrow, clear and calm weather could be expected with a high of at least 20 degrees Celsius, forecaster Brooke Lockhart said.

Sunshine totals were well above the norm at 125 per cent of the February average across most of the North Island south of Auckland, on the West Coast, as well as over north Canterbury and the Kaikoura coast.

Niwa's summary also showed "widespread dryness", with record low rain in parts of Northland, Auckland and the Bay of Plenty.

Last week the Government announced a relief package for farmers when drought was declared in Northland.

Parts of Gisborne, Hawke's Bay and Taupo had less than a quarter of normal February rainfall, with less than half of normal rainfall in most other regions.

The soil was also parched in Northland, Auckland, Waikato, the Bay of Plenty, Gisborne, Hawke's Bay and Wairarapa.

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Paraparaumu, Martinborough and Dannevirke had record-breaking sunshine hours.

In most places, afternoon temperatures were typically well above average but morning temperatures were below because of clear skies and light winds.

FEBRUARY STATS

The highest temperature was 34.6C, recorded at Alexandra on February 1.

The lowest temperature was minus 1.1C, at Mt Ruapehu on February 6.

The sunniest four centres so far for January and February are New Plymouth (634 hours), Whakatane (608 hours), Lake Tekapo (606 hours) and Tauranga (575 hours).

- The Dominion Post

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