Melanoma of the least common skin cancer out of the 3 commonly found skin cancers. It results from uncontrolled growth of melanocytes, the pigment producing cells located at the bottom part of the top skin layer (epidermis). These cells also result in formation of freckles and moles, where they grow in a controlled fashion.


How often does Melanoma occur in New Zealand?

  • New Zealand has the highest rate of Melanoma development in the world
  • There are about 50 cases upper 100,000 people in New Zealand. New Zealand has surpassed Australia in this regard as the incidence of melanoma in Australia is on the decrease.
  • Melanoma is the most common cancer occurring in people between the ages of 15-44. Around 70% melanoma occurs in people age 50 years and older.
  • About 4000 people are diagnosed with melanoma every year in New Zealand-that is about 13 patients per day.
  • Maori and better regarding the people have gotten low incidence of melanoma but they have taken an more serious melanomas.
  • The Death rates are higher among men and appear to be increasing

How many people die from Melanoma in New Zealand?

  • Melanoma is responsible for 300 deaths in New Zealand annually.
  • Melanoma accounts 80%  of all skin cancer deaths.
  • Melanoma detected and treated early can be completely cured.

What causes Melanoma?

Melanoma is usually caused by exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UVR) in sunlight, especially if it has led to sunburn. People who have been sunburnt in childhood and adolescence are particularly prone. There are also genetic and skin-type factors which increase the risk of melanoma development.

Am I at risk of developing Melanoma?

Growing up in New Zealand’s sunny climate is a risk factor for developing Melanoma.

Melanoma risk is also increased in people with:

  • Dysplastic mole
  • Fair skin type with or without freckles, red or blonde hair, light eye colour
  • Past history of Melanoma or other skin cancers
  • A close family member with Melanoma
  • Severe sunburns in the past
  • multiple moles

Where does Melanoma occur?

The most common areas for Melanoma to arise are:

  • head and neck
  • back
  • lower legs.
In darker-skinned people:
  • under the fingernails or toenails
  • palms of the hands
  • soles of the feet
Although these are the most common areas, melanomas can appear anywhere on the skin (even in areas which are not usually exposed to the sun). It is therefore important to check your entire skin on a regular basis for new or changing moles.

What does Melanoma look like?

Melanomas may occur in an existing mole which is changing in size, colour and shape or develop as a new “mole” .Important signs to look for are the “ABCD”s of Melanoma:

  • Asymmetry
  • Borders that are irregular
  • Changing spots or unusual Colors
  • Different to the other spots on the skin

Most Melanomas are dark in color, but some may appear as a pinkish or pale lump. It is important to be aware of the “EFG” signs for these less common melanomas:

  • Elevated (raised from the skin)
  • Firm to feel
  • Growing rapidly

Although these types of Melanoma are not common, they are often more aggressive and can lead to a higher risk of death if not detected early.

Melanoma Treatment

When a Melanoma is suspected, it is usually surgically removed and sent to a pathologist to be examined under a microscope with special stains. The pathologist will then issue a detailed report confirming the diagnosis of Melanoma. It will also provide information about the Melanoma thickness (“Breslow thickness”), which is important to get an idea about prognosis of the melanoma and planning of the treatment. Once the diagnosis is confirmed, the Melanoma site is again surgically removed (re-excised) with a wide margin of normal looking skin around it in all directions. The size of normal skin that needs to be removed around the Melanoma is dependent on the Melanoma thickness and other factors which are contained in the pathologist report.

People who have a thick Melanoma may be required to get a special investigation, Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy, which may help to determine if the Melanoma has spread to the draining lymph nodes. If the draining lymph nodes are affected, they have to be removed by the surgeon.

What happens if Melanoma is not treated?

If melanomas are detected and treated early, they have a very good survival outcome. If they are left untreated, they have a high potential to metastasize (spread to other parts of body) and can potentially be lethal.

Do not delay if you see a suspicious mole on yourself or your loved ones, have it examined carefully by a trained doctor as soon as possible.

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