Skin cancer and melanoma


Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in New Zealand. 2 out of every 3 New Zealanders will develop skin cancer.
Most skin cancers can be cured with early diagnosis and treatment. The sooner skin cancers are detected the simpler the treatment.
Skin cancers include melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma. The most serious form of skin cancer is melanoma.


New Zealand and Australia have the highest melanoma incidence rate in the world. Over 4000 people are diagnosed with Melanoma in New Zealand every year - that's around 11 every day. Malignant melanoma (often shortened to just 'melanoma') is a potentially fatal skin cancer that can be cured in most cases if it is diagnosed and treated early. Therefore, regular checking of the skin surface is essential.
Melanoma is the abnormal and uncontrolled growth of the skin's pigment cells (tanning cells). Melanoma can develop as a new mole or from an existing mole.
Sunburn, especially in childhood, increases the risk of a melanoma developing in later life. However, melanoma sometimes occurs on areas of the body not normally exposed to the sun such as the eye, mouth, between the toes, or under a toenail.
The first sign of melanoma is a change in the size, shape or colour of a freckle or mole, or the appearance of a new spot on the skin.
About 300 New Zealanders die from melanoma each year. The number of cases of melanoma in New Zealand has doubled in the past 30 years.
Melanoma can develop quite quickly.

How is melanoma diagnosed?

Molecheck® enables early diagnosis of melanoma, using modern technology incorporating mole mapping together with the skill of the Molecheck® doctor.
Alternatively, the patient or general practitioner may suspect a melanoma.
Any change in size, shape, or colour of a mole or freckle, or the appearance of a new mole should be reported.
If the doctor suspects a melanoma, it will be removed and sent to the laboratory to be checked.


Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)

This skin cancer is usually found on sun-exposed parts of the skin surface. It is more common in people over 40. It looks like a crusty, non-healing sore and can be tender. Sometimes it just looks like a thickened area. It can sometimes spread to other parts of the body (in about 5% of cases), and particularly if it begins on an ear or lip. Any area on the lip or ear which remains unhealed for three weeks should be immediately reported. However if diagnosed and treated early, SCC can usually be cured. Over 100 people die of squamous cell carcinoma every year in New Zealand. Squamous cell carcinoma is usually detected by the skin cancer doctor's clinical examination, rather than by a mole map. This is another important reason why patients should not rely on mole mapping alone.


Basal cell carcinoma (BCC)

It is the most common skin cancer (about three-quarters of all skin cancers). There are several different types of BCC. Some look like a small raised smooth lump, others like a non-healing sore, and yet others look like a pink, white or red patch, and can be quite difficult to see. BCC is the least dangerous type of skin cancer and is almost never a threat to life, but it still requires treatment. This is because it can spread locally - into muscles, bone and nerves, and may result in the loss of eyes, ears or noses.