Skin cancer in NZ

Skin cancer is the most common cancer affecting New Zealanders, making up an estimated 80% of new cancers reported each year.

Skin cancers are primarily caused (about 90%) by too much exposure to UV radiation from either the sun or UV-emitting devices such as sunbeds.

Sunburn does more than sting 

All types of sunburn, whether serious or mild, can cause permanent and irreversible skin damage and skin cancer. 

While some skin cancers are related to the number of severe sunburns someone suffered (particularly during childhood and adolescence) other types may be related to their lifetime exposure to UV radiation.

Skin cancers are classified into two groups: melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers.

Together, these skin cancers kill around 500 New Zealanders a year, but melanoma causes the majority of skin cancer deaths, killing around 350 of those. 

Read more skin cancer statistics on the SunSmart website.

Melanoma skin cancers

This is the most serious skin cancer. If left untreated, it can spread to other parts of the body.

  • Melanomas appear as a new spot or an existing spot, freckle or mole that changes colour, size or shape.
  • Melanomas can appear anywhere on the body, even on parts that aren’t usually exposed to the sun, such as the soles of your feet.
  • They may be itchy or bleed.

Non-melanoma skin cancers

There are two types of non-melanoma skin cancers: basal cell carcinomas (BCC) and squamous cell carcinomas (SCC). 

  • BCCs appear as a pale red or pearly smooth lump, usually on the face or neck.
  • SCCs often appear as a raised, crusty, non-healing sore. They are commonly found on the hands, forearms, ears, face or neck. SCCs found on the lips and ears have a high risk of spreading. 

Anyone who discovers anything like this, or a mole or spot that’s new, different or is changing, must see their doctor immediately. 

Like most conditions, skin cancers may be successfully treated if detected early. Have regular skin checks with a GP or dermatologist to catch any potential skin cancers.

But prevention – staying SunSmart – is always better than any cure.

For more information about the many types of skin cancers, including pictures of what they look like, see the DermNet NZ website.

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