Topics: Health, Water Safety, Weather

Māori can get melanoma too

By Peata Melbourne

Almost 500 people, 10 of whom were Māori, died of skin cancer in New Zealand last year according to statistics.  

Melanoma NZ says the UV index in New Zealand is extremely high.

Melanoma NZ CEO Linda Slay identifies multiple causes, "Pollution down here, and the distance from the sun and that clean green air, [the] ozone layer plays a part as well". 

The numbers are twice as high as this country's road toll figures, and the myths surrounding sun damage are plentiful.

"Cloud can be quite deceptive," says Slay, "You think that it's protecting you from the sun but the UV rays are just as intense and there's only a small amount absorbed by those clouds so the intensity of the sun can be just as bad on a cloudy day". 

Around 69,000 Kiwis get skin cancer every year, melanoma is particularly prevalent.  The most recent statistics show 489 people died of skin cancer.  The majority are men and only a very few of Māori descent.

"Māori won't develop melanoma at the same rates that white-skinned people do so pigmentation in the skin does protect us in some way but it's a fallacy to think that if you've got dark skin that you'll never get melanoma because that just isn't the case," says Slay.

Those of Māori ethnicity are known to get more aggressive melanomas which often means their life expectancy is less than those people that are diagnosed earlier. 

Around $57 million dollars is estimated to be spent on treating skin cancer every year.  While the number of Māori who die are few, Maori who are reported to have sun damage are much higher.

"[Figures have] been reasonably stable for Māori but the figures overall have been going up for incidence and for death rates from melanoma for a number of years," says Slay.

The message is to stay safe over the summer and slip slap slop to stop the melanoma.