melanomas resemble moles but are cancerous growths.

Cancer starts when cells in the body begin to grow out of control. Melanoma is a cancer that usually starts in a certain type of skin cell called melanocytes. Melanocytes make a brown pigment called melanin, which gives the skin its tan or brown colour. Melanin protects the deeper layers of the skin from some of the harmful effects of the sun. For most people, when skin is exposed to the sun, melanocytes make more of the pigment, causing the skin to tan or darken.

The primary cause of melanoma is ultraviolet light exposure either from the sun or from other sources, such as tanning devices. Melanomas can develop anywhere on the skin, but they are more likely to start on the trunk (chest and back) in men and on the legs in women. The neck and face are other common sites.

Most melanoma cells still make melanin, so melanoma tumours are usually brown or black. But some melanomas do not make melanin and can appear pink, tan, or even white.


about melanoma

  • New Zealand has overtaken Australia as having the highest per capita incidence rates of invasive melanoma in the world
  • Melanoma is the third most common cancer for both men and women in NZ
  • Melanomas is more prevalent in people over 50 years of age, but are reasonably common in younger people, aged 25–39 years
  • Overall melanomas incidence and mortality is consistently higher in males than in females
  • Maori and Pacific people have lower melanoma incidence and mortality but have higher risk of advanced melanoma, with poorer prognosis
  • About half of all melanomas are first found by the person himself

risk factors

  • Previous personal history of melanoma or a family history of melanoma, increases the risk of melanoma
  • Age: the chance of developing melanoma increases with age
  • Skin type: People who are very fair skinned, especially with fair or red hair, are more at risk of developing melanoma. So are people with a lot of freckles.
  • Fair skinned people born in a hot country, for example Australia, have an increased risk of melanoma throughout their life.
  • Sun exposure: People who are exposed to UVR are more at risk of melanoma. Childhood sun exposure is can with increase melanoma risk
  • Sunburn: People who have had multiple incidences of sunburn are more likely to get melanoma as those who have not.
  • Sunbeds: The International Agency for Research into Cancer (IARC) has classified using sunbeds as a cause of melanoma.
  • Moles: The more moles on your body, especially if they are irregular or large moles, the higher the risk of melanoma.
  • The strength of UVR New Zealand is greater than in any other parts of the world.


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