Push for skincare professionals to learn how to spot melanoma

Warning: This report contains confronting pictures of the development of a melanoma.

There's a push for all skin-related jobs - like hairdressers and tattoo artists - to be trained in detecting melanoma.

Experts say often those professionals are the first line of defence against skin cancer, and early detection can be the difference between life and death.

These days, Mary Rupapera's battle with melanoma is something she can casually chat about over a cup of tea, but it started just as casually at a hair appointment, when her hairdresser noticed a tiny bump on her head.

"It didn't have any colour," Ms Rupapera said of her melanoma.

"I had it checked but the doctor said it was a cyst [and told me], 'Just leave it - it will go away.'"

But it wasn't a cyst, and it didn't go away. In fact, six months later it had grown, and tests revealed it was desmoplastic melanoma.

"I was healthy, fit, strong, and with a quick diagnosis I was vulnerable, angry, scared," Ms Rupapera said.

The skin cancer was cut out and she's been clear for nearly two years. While she still has the scars, a special hairpiece fixes that, and it's a small price to pay for a clean bill of health.

Now, there's a call for all skin-related professions, like hairdressers and tattoo artists, to be trained in detecting funny-looking spots.

"Not necessarily [that we'll] require these professions to have that kind of knowledge, but offer it as an easy way to offer as health and safety training," skincare doctor Hans Raetz said.

That's because New Zealand has the highest rate of melanoma in the world, with 4000 people getting diagnosed with it each year and 300 people dying from it, but if it's treated early, there's a 99 percent cure rate.

"Melanoma, in the late stages, you might be down to below 50 percent or even an incurable disease," he said.

Tattoo artist Dan Anderson worries that too much responsibility could be lumbered on people's shoulders.

"If I miss somebody's mole and I don't tell them to get it checked out and they say, 'You've been taught, why didn't you see it?' - that's too much," he said.

Dr Raetz said he wants to change the Kiwi "she'll be right" attitude towards skin cancer.

"It's the attitude that skin cancer isn't a bad thing.

"If you pick them up early that's fine, I like that attitude, but if you pick them up late it can be a death sentence."

He wants Kiwis to start looking out for spots with the melanoma-identifying alphabet in mind. That's A for asymmetry (two different looking halves), B for border irregularity, C for colour (a non-uniform mix), D for diameter (greater than 6mm) and E for evolution.