Melanoma Cases Continue to Rise

New Zealand's rate of melanoma - skin tumours - continues to increase, with Northland, Bay of Plenty and Taranaki being the worst-affected.

The figures, released by the Melanoma Scorecard developed by MoleMap, show melanoma rates had grown at 7.5 per cent every year over the past 10 years.

MoleMap -- established in 1997 by a group of dermatologists -- is a database of moles and other skin lesions.

MoleMap CEO Adrian Bowling said the figures meant New Zealand maintained its position as having the highest incidence of invasive melanoma per head in the world.

Regional data from the New Zealand Health Information Service (NZHIS) on melanoma diagnoses and related deaths showed a wide variation in melanoma rates across the regions.

Northland, Bay of Plenty and Taranaki showed the highest rates.

Tairawhiti, Bay of Plenty and the West Coast showed the greatest average increases, ranging from 18-20 per cent each year.

Central North Island and Otago regions showed relatively small increases of around 1 per cent.

Twenty-three per cent more men in the Northland DHB region were diagnosed with melanoma than women.

In South Canterbury region the opposite was true with around 21 per cent more women diagnosed.

Around one third of those diagnosed with melanoma are under 50, and the dominant age sector is the 50-75 age group, accounting for almost half the overall incidence.

Mr Bowling said while some regional increases were starting from a very low base, it was clear that reported melanoma incidence was on the rise.

"High incidence rates may not necessarily be the result of a lack of awareness," he said.

"In some regions we know high awareness has been realised through well known local people experiencing melanoma.

"These communities have shown huge growth in melanoma diagnoses which may be the result of people actively managing the problem and detecting it earlier."

Melanoma was still the most likely cancer to kill people under 40 and the damage was often done earlier in life, he said.

The Scorecard indicated some population segments were not as active at preventing melanoma and might be unaware of the ferocity and progressive nature of this deadly cancer, he said.

"Early detection and treatment of melanoma improves the chance of survival. Regular monitoring of changes to the skin and existing moles is a critical step to reducing melanoma deaths," he said.

"Those with numerous moles or atypical (unusual) moles, or a personal or family history, should consider an annual screening examination with an expert in skin cancer."