What is melanoma?


Non-melanoma skin cancers are the most common form of skin cancer. While melanomas are less common than non-melanoma skin cancers they are responsible for the most deaths from skin cancer.

Melanoma most commonly occurs on the skin on parts of the body that were sunburned, but it can appear on skin anywhere on the body. It often starts as a new spot on your skin, but may develop from an existing mole. Melanoma can grow very quickly and spread to other parts of the body if left untreated.

If found when they are thin and at an early stage, most melanomas can be completely removed with surgery.

More than 85 percent of people diagnosed with early melanoma 15 years ago are alive and well today. This percentage has grown steadily over the years with early detection and treatment.

Neke atu i te 85 ōrau o ngā tangata kua whakatauria me te tonapuku tōmua i ngā tau e 15 ki muri,
kei te ora, kāore i te whai tohu o te mate. Kua tipu tēnei ōrau i ngā tau kua hori nā te tere
kitea, me ngā whakamaimoa.

Melanoma can affect parts of the body other than the skin, although this is rare. Occasionally, melanoma can start in places such as the eye or the gut, and may not always be related to sun exposure.


Melanomas have many different sizes, shapes and colours

A melanoma usually begins as a flat, coloured spot that changes in size, shape or colour. It may become raised over time.

A normal freckle or mole usually has an even colour and a smooth edge. A melanoma often has an irregular edge or surface.

It may have a mixture of colours within it, such as brown, black, blue, red, pink, white and/or light grey.

Melanomas of the skin have many variations. Any change on your skin should be immediately checked out by a GP or specialist.


How skin cancers develop

Like all body tissues, the skin is made of tiny ‘building blocks’ called cells. These cells can become cancerous when they have been damaged, for example by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or artificial UV sources such as sunbeds.

Skin cancers are named after the types of cell they begin to grow from. The three most common types of skin cancer are basal cell cancer, squamous cell cancer and melanoma.


Who develops melanoma?

Melanoma is most common in people with fair skin. People from ethnic groups with darker skin, for
example Māori, Pacific and Asian peoples, have more natural protection from UV rays. Anyone can
develop melanoma regardless of their ethnicity—early detection is important.

“The number of people diagnosed with melanoma in New Zealand is two times greater than that of any other country in the world.” World Cancer Report 2014

Skin cancer, including melanoma, is diagnosed most often in people over 50 years but can often be found in younger age groups (25 to 39 years). It is occasionally found in teenagers and is rare in children.

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What are the risk factors for melanoma?

Factors that may contribute to skin cancer, including melanoma:

• a personal history of skin cancer

• a family/whānau history of skin cancer

• a skin type that burns easily

• red, blond or fair hair

• skin damage due to sunburn

• sunbed use

• many moles and larger moles.

Māori, Asian and Pacific peoples have a lower chance of developing melanoma, but often have thicker
(more serious) melanomas.

He iti ake te tūpono o ngā iwi Māori me ngā iwi o te Moana-nui- a-Kiwa, e ai ki ētahi atu tāngata,
engari, he mātatoru ake ngā tonapuku e puta ana.


What are the causes of melanoma?

Too much sun can cause melanoma. Each time your skin is exposed to UV radiation, damage can occur to your skin. The more exposure, the greater the damage.

Exposure to UV radiation during childhood and early-adult years greatly increases the chance of getting melanoma later in life. For more information about being SunSmart, see the website (www.sunsmart.org.nz).

Melanoma affects parts of the body other than the skin, such as the eye or the gut, and it may not
always be related to sun exposure.

"Many of us have fair skin and we have to be so careful in the New Zealand sun to make sure we use sunscreen and wear sunglasses, protect our skin and body, as well as checking for changes." Karen


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