About melanoma

Melanoma is a form of cancer that develops in the skin’s pigment cells (melanocytes).

Melanocytes produce melanin to help protect the skin from ultraviolet (UV) radiation i.e. sunlight. When melanocyte cells combine together in the skin they form a mole.

Most moles are quite safe, however sometimes the melanocytes in a mole begin to grow and divide in an uncontrolled way. If they start to grow either expanding outwards or upwards they can become a melanoma.

Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer and it can progress quickly. Anyone in New Zealand can get melanoma. It is treatable if diagnosed early, but if the cancer spreads to other parts of the body the prospects can be fatal.


Over 4000 people

are diagnosed with either melanoma in situ or invasive melanoma every year in New Zealand – that’s around 13 every day.

New Zealands melanoma

incidence rate is the

world's highest.

Around 70%

of melanoma cases occur in people aged 50 years and older.

Melanoma rarely occurs in children.

Melanoma accounts for

nearly 80%

of all skin cancer deaths.

Over 350 Kiwis

die of melanoma every year.

Maori and Pacific people

may have a lower chance of getting melanoma, they often have thicker, more serious melanomas.

Death rates are

higher among men

and appear to be increasing.


Statistics sourced from the Ministry of Health and the New Zealand Guidelines Group 


Risk factors

  • Sunburn at any age increases risk
    of melanoma in later life

  • There is a greater risk of melanoma with high doses of sun exposure eg. during a holiday and recreational activity with continuous sun exposure

  • One type of melanoma tends to occur on the soles of the feet, palms of the hand and under the nails in those with darker skins

  • Family or personal history of skin cancer

  • Fair skin

  • Red, blonde or fair hair

  • Skin type that burns easily

  • Skin damage due to sunburn

  • Sunbed use

  • Many moles or larger moles




  • Avoid sunburn through the use of sunscreen

  • Protect your skin during the time of the day when UV radiation is highest. This is between 10am and 4pm during daylight saving months

  • Don’t use a sunbed



  • Protect your skin against UV radiation by:

    • Slip on a long sleeved, collared shirt

    • Slip into the shade

    • Slop on sunscreen that is at least SPF30, broad spectrum and water resistant

    • Slap on a broad brimmed hat that shades
      the face, neck and ears

    • Wrap on close fitting sunglasses

For in more information about melanoma visit Dermnet NZ