Who gets melanoma?

Author: Vanessa Ngan, Staff Writer; Copy Editor: Clare Morrison; Chief Editor: Dr Amanda Oakley, Dermatologist, Hamilton, New Zealand, October 2013. About Melanoma is sponsored by the New Zealand Dermatological Society Incorporated.

Melanoma can develop in anyone

About one in fifteen fair-skinned New Zealanders can expect to get a melanoma in their lifetime. New Zealand has the highest rates of melanoma in the world. In 2009 it was the fourth most common cancer registered and the sixth most common cause of death from cancer.

In New Zealand, older men of non-European ethnicity are more likely to be diagnosed with a difficult-to-treat thick melanoma. Men are twice as likely to die from melanoma than females of similar ethnic background.

Do Māori people get melanoma too?

Yes! Anyone can get melanoma, although it is much more common in white-skinned people than in brown- or black-skinned people.

Melanoma in Māori, Pacific and Asian people

Skin cancer, including melanoma, occurs much less commonly in Māori, Pacific and Asian people from New Zealand compared with New Zealand Europeans.

Even though less than 1% of Māori are diagnosed with melanoma, they tend to have thicker melanomas, which are more dangerous and more difficult to treat. Three Māori men and three Māori women died of melanoma in 2010.

Melanoma in MāoriMelanoma in Pacific IslanderMelanoma in AsianMelanoma of the nail
Melanoma in Maori man Melanoma in Pacific Islander Melanoma in Chinese lady Nail melanoma

Melanoma risk factors

Certain risk factors increase the chances of someone getting the most common type of melanoma (superficial spreading melanoma) compared with someone else. These are listed below.

These relative risk factors are less important for the less common types of melanoma (apart from older age). These arise sporadically.

Examples of relative risk according to risk factor

Age over 50 years

Previous melanoma 

Having many moles 

Having large or funny-looking (atypical) moles 

Previous non-melanoma skin cancer (basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, actinic keratosis 

Family history of melanoma 

Light- or fair-coloured skin

 Skin that burns easily and tans poorly 

Using sunbeds or tanning salons 

Sun damage Many molesAn atypical moleFair skin and red hair
Melanoma in sun damaged skin Man with many moles Atypical mole Very fair skin and red hair

Related information

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