Did you know?
- New Zealand and Australia have the highest rates of skin cancer, including melanoma, in the world.
- Approximately 50% of all Kiwis will get a skin cancer in their lifetime.
- There are different types of skin cancer, melanoma being the most serious.
- Over 4000 people are diagnosed with melanoma every year in New Zealand
- Over 350 Kiwis die of melanoma every year - roughly equal to the annual NZ road deaths.
Statistics sourced from the Ministry of Health and the New Zealand Guidelines Group.
What is skin cancer?
Skin cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells.
It is very common in New Zealand, and it is estimated that skin cancer accounts for 80% of all new cancer diagnoses in NZ each year.
The three most common types of skin cancer are melanoma, basal cell carcinoma (BCC), and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC).
Skin is made of tiny ‘building blocks’ called cells, and skin cancers are named after the cells they originate from. These cells can become cancerous when they have been damaged, for example, by ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun.
Melanoma is a common and serious type of skin cancer. It can spread rapidly and can be life-threatening if left untreated. Unfortunately, New Zealand has one of the highest rates of melanoma in the world, with around 350 Kiwi's dying of it every year.
What is melanoma?
Melanoma develops from skin cells called melanocytes. Melanocytes are in everyone's skin and produce a protein called melanin which protects the skin cells by absorbing harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation.
A cancerous (or uncontrolled) growth of melanocytes results in melanoma.
Melanoma is described as:
- In situ - if the tumour is confined to the epidermis (outer layer of skin).
- Invasive - if the tumour has grown down into the dermis (deeper layer of skin).
- Metastatic - if the tumour has spread to other tissues or organs.
There are different sub-types of melanoma which are classified according to their appearance and behaviour. The four main sub-types are: superficial spreading melanoma, lentigo maligna melanoma, acral lentiginous melanoma, and nodular melanoma.
Most melanoma are a result of previous exposure to UV radiation from the sun, often in ones youth or early adulthood e.g, sunbathing, outdoor work / activities. Sun exposure and sunburn during these years greatly increases the chance of getting melanoma later in life.
The best chance to cure melanoma is to find and treat it early. Early melanoma is essentially cured by simply excising (removing) it before it has a chance to spread. However, if it goes unnoticed or is ignored, melanoma can spread (metastasize) to other tissues and organs which is very difficult to treat and can be deadly.
It is very important to get checked early if you are worried about a mole that is changing shape, colour, size or outline, or have a mole that stands out as different from the others.
For more information on melanoma please visit: Melanoma - Dermnet
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC)
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common skin cancer in New Zealand. Approximately 40% of New Zealanders will develop a basal cell carcinoma requiring treatment.
It can present in a number of ways from a non-healing sore or scaly patch of skin, to a pearly skin lump with blood vessels on the surface. It generally grows slowly over months, and if left untreated will continue to grow into and invade surrounding tissues (eg nose, ear, eyelids). Basal cell cancers rarely spread to other parts of the body and thus, rarely cause death, although they can and do result in considerable discomfort, disfigurement and scarring.
There are a number of effective treatment options including surgical removal, liquid nitrogen and topical creams.
For more information and pictures please visit: Basal Cell Carcinoma - Dermnet NZ
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common type of skin cancer in New Zealand.
It usually presents as a pink, scaly or crusty lump on sun-damaged skin, commonly on the face, scalp, arms and legs. They tend to grow much more quickly than BCC (above) and can be tender.
Squamous cell carcinoma is easily treated if found early, usually by surgical excision. More aggressive SCC can however spread to other parts of the body (metastasise) and can sometimes be fatal.
For more information and pictures please visit : Squamous Cell Carcinoma - Dermnet
Other skin lesions
There are many other common skin lesions that we may see apart from the big three (melanoma, SCC, BCC). Below is a list of some of these. For further information please visit Dermnet NZ.
|Naevus / Mole||Dermatofibroma||Seborrhoeic Keratosis||Solar lentigo|
|Dysplastic Neavus||Solar / actinic keratosis||Intraepidermal carcinoma /Bowen's Disease||Angioma|
- Personal history of skin cancer / melanoma
- Family history of skin cancer / melanoma
- Fair skin
- Red, orange or blonde hair
- Multiple moles
- Past history of sun exposure e.g. outdoor work or activities
- Sunburn at any age increases risk of melanoma in later life
- Sunbed use
Protect your skin against the suns damaging UV radiation:
- Slip on a shirt
- Slip into the shade
- Slop on sunscreen
- Slap on a hat
- Wrap on some sunglasses
For more information about sun protection please visit the SunSmart NZ website.
Self checks for skin cancer
It is important you check your skin regularly for any moles or skin patches that have appeared or changed over time. Skin cancers can be in places you can't see yourself, so you may need to ask someone to help you check e.g. your back, scalp, behind ears etc.
What to look for:
A good way to remember what to look for is the acronym SCAN which stands for Sore, Changing, Abnormal and New. .
- SORE - A spot which is sore (scaly, itchy, bleeding, tender) and doesn’t heal within 6 weeks.
- CHANGING - Changing in size, shape, colour or texture.
- ABNORMAL - Looks different, feels different, or stands out when compared to your other spots and moles.
- NEW - Has appeared on your skin recently. Any new moles or spots should be checked, especially if you are over 40.
If you do find any spots or moles of concern it's important to show your GP or book an appointment with one of our doctors for a 'Spot Check' or 'Full Skin Check.'