About Skin Cancer

In this section you can find out more about:

This will help to give you a better understanding of the disease. Remember, if you want to know more or you have further questions, note them down and speak to your medical professional.

What is Skin Cancer?

Skin cancer develops in the outer layer of your skin, called the epidermis. It usually occurs in areas that are exposed to the sun, but this is not always the case.

There are three main types of skin cancer:

  • Basal cell carcinoma (BCC)
  • Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)
  • Melanoma

Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are quite common and are often referred to as non-melanoma skin cancers. These types of cancers rarely spread to other parts of the body, but if they are not treated they can invade nearby tissues beneath the skin.

Melanoma is less common, but is a more serious form of skin cancer. It is more likely to spread to nearby tissues and other parts of the body.

Who gets Skin Cancer?

Skin cancer is very common and New Zealand has one of the highest rates of this type of cancer in the world. Each year, around 67,000 New Zealanders will be diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancers. 1 A further 2,000 New Zealanders will be diagnosed with the more serious melanoma each year.

You’re more likely to get skin cancer as you get older, but it can affect younger people as well. It doesn’t matter what colour your skin is, you could still get skin cancer, however it is more common in people with fair skin who have spent a lot of time in the sun or on sunbeds.

Risk factors include:

  • Having a family history of the disease
  • Blistering sunburn or excessive sun exposure in childhood
  • Use of sunbeds
  • Having many moles or unusual moles
  • A weakened immune system.

These are general risk factors only and they do not necessarily mean that you will have skin cancer. Check with your doctor if you have any concerns


1. Ministry of Health. 2014. Cancer: New registrations and deaths 2011. Wellington: Ministry of Health.

Available from: http://www.health.govt.nz/system/files/documents/publications/cancer-new-registrations-deaths-2011-v4sept14.pdf. Accessed April 2015.