Health Awareness

Helping protect health from birth to adulthood

April 1, 2024

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a family siting on grass in a park

Vaccines are one of the greatest public health success stories in history

They help protect against more than 20 potentially life-threatening diseases.

We recognise and support the many global health stakeholders, including the World Health Organization, for their efforts in raising awareness about the importance of vaccination and helping prevent infectious diseases around the world.

“Immunization is a global health and development success story…helping people of all ages live longer, healthier lives…It’s also one of the best health investments money can buy. Vaccines are also critical to the prevention and control of infectious disease outbreaks [and] underpin global health security…”

  • World Health Organization, 2023

Broader vaccination coverage along with other public health measures have eradicated smallpox and significantly decreased the incidence of other vaccine-preventable diseases.

Vaccine equity is a global challenge

The COVID-19 pandemic triggered unprecedented disruptions to vaccination programs around the world, resulting in the largest sustained decline in childhood vaccination rates in approximately 30 years.  

The pandemic also revealed underlying health inequities and reminded us of the importance of preserving trust in and advancing equitable access to vaccines.

Crowded street downtown

Global vaccination coverage dropped 5% between 2019 and 2021.

a child has a first aid plater on the harm

Between 2019 and 2021, the number of completely unvaccinated children increased by 5 million worldwide.

Recovering vaccination rates together

Now, more than ever, we have an opportunity to reimagine the role we all can play.

At MSD, our vaccines help prevent diseases affecting individuals around the world and across all stages of life, from infancy through older adulthood.

But, we can’t be successful alone. That’s why we are working with a variety of stakeholders to help build trust in vaccination and enable equitable global access to vaccination services for everyone who can benefit from them.

Through our work in vaccines, we are committed to helping protect people today and for generations to come.

a girl with her mother consult with a doctor

Globally, MSD and our legacy companies have a 130+ year history of innovation and commitment to helping prevent disease by discovering, developing, supplying and delivering vaccines.

To keep pace with the ever-evolving disease landscape, we go where the need is to find new ways to address complex public health problems. We continue to invest in groundbreaking research and breakthrough technologies to help protect against potentially life-altering vaccine-preventable diseases.


World Health Organization. Vaccines and Immunization. Available at: Accessed on: 28 March 2023

Greenwood, B. The contribution of vaccination to global health: past, present and future. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2014;369(1645):20130433

World Health Organization. Smallpox. Available at: Accessed on: 26 March 2023

World Health Organization. Smallpox Eradication Programme – SEP(1966-1980). Available at:—sep-(1966-1980) Accessed on: 23 April 2023

World Health Organization. Call to action: Vaccine Equity. Available at: Accessed on: 28 March 2023

UNDP Global Dashboard for Vaccine Equity Available at: Accessed on: 28 March 2023

Abrams EM & Szefler SJ. COVID-19 and the impact of social determinants of health. Lancet Respir Med. 2020(8):659-661.

Paremoer L et al. Covid-19 pandemic and the social determinants of health. BMJ. 2021;28:372:n129.

World Health Organization. COVID-19 pandemic fuels largest continued backslide in vaccinations in three decades. Available at: Accessed on: 22 September 2022

Perry BL, Aronson B & Pescosolido BA. Pandemic precarity: COVID-19 is exposing and exacerbating inequalities in the American heartland. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2021;118(8):e2020685118.

World Health Organization. 2022. Immunization Coverage. Available at: Accessed on: 21 September 2022

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Routine Vaccination Coverage – World wide, 2021. Available at: Accessed on: 20 March 2023

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Overview, History, and How the Safety Process Works. Available at: Accessed on: 13 April 2021

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Recommended Adult Immunization Schedule United States 2023. Available at: Accessed on: 27 February 2023

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Recommended Child and Adolescent Immunization United States Schedule 2023. Available at: Accessed on: 15 February 2023

NZ-NON-00403 TAPS: NP20725 Last Updated on March 2024

Health Awareness

5 facts about lung cancer

What everyone needs to know about one of the most common types of cancer

November 3, 2023

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In 2020, it was estimated that more than 2 million people were diagnosed with lung cancer, changing their lives and setting them on a path that they likely didn’t anticipate and that no one wants to travel. MSD is fighting for these patients and their families by advancing research and fostering greater awareness and understanding of the disease.

Here are five facts about lung cancer that we think everyone needs to know.


Every person with lung cancer deserves compassion and support.

People with lung cancer may face social stigma if they have smoked in the past. But, the truth is, there is no room for blame. Every person diagnosed with lung cancer experiences similar kinds of challenges as anyone who learns they have cancer. People with lung cancer are worthy of all the compassion and support their families, care teams and the wider cancer community can provide to help them stand against this disease.

Caregiver holding patient's hand


It takes a village to navigate life with lung cancer.

When coping with a lung cancer diagnosis, it’s important to build a circle of support that includes the oncologist, health care teams, family and friends.

Connecting with others can provide a sense of support and comfort to help patients through everything that goes into managing this disease.

“Life for people with lung cancer seems like it’s completely broken and changed – days are full of doctor appointments and tests. Living with lung cancer seems to become the new normal.”

Dr. Cathy Pietanza, an oncologist and distinguished scientist at MSD Research Laboratories


There’s no one type of person who develops lung cancer.

Lung cancer strikes both men and women. While it is mostly diagnosed in older people, younger people can develop the disease. In fact, in 2020, more than 285,000 cases of lung cancer were estimated to be diagnosed worldwide among people 54 years and younger.

Crowded street downtown


There are multiple risk factors for lung cancer, including some outside our control.

Smoking is the greatest risk factor for developing lung cancer, but there are others as well, including having a family history of the disease and exposure to certain environmental substances.

Environmental risks include

  • Radon gas
  • Exposure to asbestos, second-hand smoke and other carcinogens in the air, such as arsenic, chromium and nickel


Scientific advances are making an impact in lung cancer.

Over the past decade, scientific advances have helped lead to more survivors.

Researcher in lab coat

View infographic


American Cancer Society. Adjusting to life with cancer. Available at: Accessed on: 13 November 2023

American Cancer Society. Lung cancer risk factors. Available at: Accessed on: 1 October 2019

American Cancer Society. Survivorship: During and After Treatment. Available at: Accessed on: 7 January 2021

American Lung Association. Your lung cancer team. Available at: Accessed on: 22 November 2022

Febbraro M, Gheware A, Kennedy T, Jain D, de Moraes FY, Juergens R. Barriers to access: global variability in implementing treatment advances in lung cancer. Am Soc Clin Oncol Educ Book. 2022;42:1-7. doi:10.1200/EDBK_351021

WHO Global Cancer Observatory Estimated age-standardized incidence rates (world) in 2020, world, females, all ages (excl. NMSC). Available at: Accessed on: 9 December 2022

WHO Global Cancer Observatory Estimated number of incident cases worldwide, both sexes, ages 0-54. Available at: Accessed on: 18 November 2022

WHO Global Cancer Observatory Estimated number of new cases in 2020, world, both sexes, all ages. Global Cancer Observatory. Available at: Accessed on: 18 November 2022

WHO Global Cancer Observatory Lung cancer fact sheet. Available at: Accessed on: 18 December 2020

WHO Global Cancer Observatory World Cancer Fact Sheet. Available at: Accessed on: 12 October 2022

GO2 For Lung Cancer. Available at: Accessed on: 18 November 2022

TAPS Approval No: NP20080 NZ-NON-00404 Last Updated on October 2023


Women in science? Absolutely.

Strong career paths and cutting-edge science draw more women to our small molecule process R&D team

October 30, 2023

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Four women scientists wear marks and glasses in a lab

Women scientists have historically been underrepresented in the field of process research and development — the space between drug discovery and manufacturing.  However, over the past seven years, the percentage of women on our company’s small molecule process research & development (SM PR&D) team has nearly doubled and continues to grow.

Jamie McCabe Dunn stands in front of a bookcase

“This progress is important because it reflects our mindset that diversity and inclusion fuel creativity and innovation.”

Jamie McCabe Dunn

Director, process chemistry

“Our group today looks dramatically different than it did when I first started 14 years ago because we’ve taken steps to build more diverse teams,” said McCabe Dunn.

And, women chemists and engineers are vital to our success.

“While we’ve come a long way in the last decade, achieving greater gender equity must continue to be a priority for all leaders,” said Kevin Campos, vice president.

One successful approach has been for women leaders to take more active roles in recruiting talent. This allows  for greater relationship building among female candidates applying for jobs in science fields and provides a vision for growth opportunities at our company.

“We’re also expanding relationships with more academic institutions and casting a wider net to find excellent talent,” said McCabe Dunn. “As more women join the company and see the strong career paths open to them, we expect to see even greater diversity.”

A woman chemical engineer in a male-dominated field

Eighteen years ago, when Marguerite Mohan joined MSD, she was one of a small group of women scientists on the team. Although not different from what she experienced academically, she recalls being asked whether she thought this environment would limit her.

Marguerite Mohan

“I had no concerns being in the gender minority…I knew I was here because of my ability.”

Marguerite Mohan

Executive director, chemical engineering, SM PR&D

“I loved being a chemical engineer and wanted to apply my skills where I’d make an impact on people’s lives. The interface of research and manufacturing was a great place to start,” said Mohan.

Tasked with developing and scaling up processes to safely, innovatively and robustly produce drug candidates for clinical trials and commercial use — these teams deliver for patients through cutting-edge science.  They challenge the status-quo and try new things. That’s also how they recognize and develop talent.

“We’re committed to making sure everyone’s voice is heard and respected. This has allowed women to frame what technical growth looks like from our point of view, bringing diversity of thought to the problem-solving and leadership table,” said Mohan. “By challenging the status quo, we’re creating stronger, more innovative teams filled with unique scientific talent.” 

A new generation of women scientists

Niki Patel and Cindy Hong joined our company within the past six years — both drawn, in part, to our reputation as a scientific leader committed to improving human health.

“I was very aware of the team’s novel and innovative science through publications in high-profile, peer-reviewed journals and presentations at conferences. This was a place where I wanted to do great science,” said Patel, associate principal scientist. 

It was also a place where both Patel and Hong knew they’d fit in.

Cindy Hong

“As a female graduate student, I was definitely outnumbered. But, when I interviewed here, I saw such diversity on the teams – including at leadership levels.”

Cindy Hong

Associate principal scientist

“I knew this environment was right for me,” said Hong. “I’ve worked with great female and male leaders since joining the company and been exposed to many different areas of expertise. I see real opportunities for growth.”

Women empowering other women in science

Strong networks and outreach are important to not only maintain a pipeline to potential female scientist candidates but also retain and promote those already on the team. They can include things like collaborative communities, mentor programs, publishing papers or grassroots efforts.

Niki Patel

“We’re empowered to take steps to support women in this field.”

Niki Patel

Associate principal scientist

“For example, I’ve helped organize forums to discuss topics on diversity and inclusion and participated in career panels geared toward supporting women and underrepresented groups in the field,” said Patel.

Sometimes, that support might simply be a quick note of recognition.

 “I try to acknowledge micro-accomplishments in the moment — things that seem small but are important to that person,’” said Mohan. “It’s a simple, personal way to show someone they — and their work — matter.”

In addition to kudos from colleagues, many of our female scientists have been recognized externally. In the last three years, 12 women in the department have been honored with individual awards or as key contributors in team awards. These awards include the ACS Division of Organic Chemistry Early Career Investigator, ACS WCC Rising Star, ACS Fellow, Heroes of Chemistry, the Edison Patent Award, the ACS Award for Computers in Chemistry and Pharma, and an HBA Rising Star.

“We have a high success rate,” said McCabe Dunn. “Ninety-two percent of the women we’ve nominated or renominated for individual awards have won.”

Can women have a successful career in science?  Absolutely. As Mohan says, “Know your core, be true to it and value what makes you a unique asset.”

a scientist in a lab

Are you interested in a career in R&D?

NZ-NON-00199 Last Updated October 2023


MSD New Zealand – Auckland Office commits to 100% Green Energy for 2023

October 30, 2023

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Wind Turbine Generators

MSD New Zealand – Auckland Office commits to 100% Green Energy for 2023.

GWES ANZ is excited to announce our Green Energy commitment by purchasing Certified Renewable Energy through our vendor

We are passionate about helping our commercial footprint decarbonize so that we can reach our ESG Goals, and enhance sustainability programmes at our sites; thereby providing a healthier future for our people and our patients.

The energy Meridian generates comes from 100% renewable sources. It is New Zealand’s largest generator and makes power through its wind farms, hydro stations and solar panels. That’s where the magic happens.

Watch the MSD Corporate Responsibility video here to understand how operating responsibly is fundamental to our long-term success, to our obligation to society, and to the health and well-being of our people and patients globally.
MSD is committed to be carbon neutral by 2025.

NZ-NON-00261 Last Updated October 2023


MSD publishes Impact Report 2022/2023

Letter from our chairman and chief executive officer, Rob Davis

September 25, 2023

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Rob Davis

Dear Stakeholders,

Thank you for your interest in MSD and our ongoing commitment to operating responsibly and creating value for patients, our stakeholders and our business. We continue to take inspiration from our purpose and our unique opportunity to use the power of leading-edge science to save and improve lives around the world.

Sustainable value creation is core to how we do business as we work to advance global health, apply innovative science and ultimately protect and improve the health of people and animals through the development and delivery of medicines, vaccines and technology solutions. We’re passionate about this work and committed to making a positive difference for patients and the world while driving strong business outcomes. Working globally as One Team, we organize our sustainability efforts across four focus areas to create long-term value: 1) expanding access to health; 2) developing and rewarding a diverse, inclusive and healthy workforce; 3) protecting the environment; and 4) operating with the highest standards of ethics and values.

Expanding access to health

Two years ago, we set a goal to enable 100 million more people to access our innovative portfolio globally, through access strategies, solutions and partnerships, by 2025. We exceeded this goal already in 2022. As a result, we increased our ambition and more than tripled our original goal. We now aim to enable 350 million more people to access our innovative portfolio by 2025.

We’re eager to reach more people not only now, but in the years to come. To this end, we pursued new scientific discoveries with an investment last year of $13.5 billion in research and development. In total, our products and pipeline seek to address 83% of the top 20 global burdens of diseases.

In 2022, our MECTIZAN® Donation Program turned 35 years old. The longest-running disease-specific drug donation program of its kind, this successful effort to combat river blindness and lymphatic filariasis reached nearly 360 million people last year1. We also invested $38 million to advance health equity through initiatives like MSD for Mothers. These investments support our goal to reach over 30 million people in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) and in U.S. underserved populations with our social investments, by 2025. We surpassed this goal as well in 2022. Our new goal is to reach over 50 million people in LMICs, underserved populations in the U.S. and, going forward, underserved populations in other high-income countries, by 2025.

Developing and rewarding a diverse, inclusive and healthy workforce

We’re committed to investing in our colleagues and building a strong pipeline of talent as an employer of choice. Across our organization, we value diversity and inclusion as both an ethical and business priority.

We’re becoming even more inclusive in our hiring, working with organizations including OneTen, a business coalition striving to close the opportunity gap for Black workers without four-year college degrees. In order to create more access to meaningful career opportunities for diverse candidates, we posted about 900 job openings not requiring a four-year degree, which was twice as many as the previous year. In addition, in 2022 we hosted 90 student interns through Year Up, a nonprofit serving economically disadvantaged young people. Women represented more than half of our new hires globally, and in the U.S., 47% of new hires came from underrepresented ethnic groups.

We have a longstanding commitment to fair and equitable pay for all employees doing similar work. In the U.S., our 2022 study found that we had achieved greater than 99% pay equity for female and male employees, as well as non-white (including Black, Hispanic and Asian employees) and white employees. Our commitment to diversity and inclusion also extends to our business partners. Last year, we spent $3.2 billion with diverse Tier 1 and 2 suppliers globally.

Protecting the environment

Our company has a long history of environmental stewardship, and we believe a healthy planet is essential to improving health and protecting the sustainability of our business. As part of this work, we have committed to the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) to set a net-zero target for our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across our global operations (Scopes 1, 2, 3).

We know that each of our research, production and office facilities plays a role in achieving our goals for energy efficiency, waste reduction and overall sustainability. In 2022, we created a Waste Diversion Playbook to help sites contribute to our goals through local waste-diversion strategies, such as composting and recycling, and environmentally responsible procurement practices.

Operating with the highest standards of ethics and values

We operate responsibly every day, holding ourselves to the highest standards of ethics and values. Our code of conduct defines our corporate character and helps us protect our reputation as a trustworthy company. We maintain 100% compliance to regulatory requirements for active incident monitoring, risk and harm analysis, and timely notification of data breaches. We also encourage employees to speak up and report potential concerns, ensuring our ethics and values are reflected in all we do.

As a signatory to the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC), MSD remains committed to improving our communities through our operations, aligning our efforts with the Ten Principles of the UNGC.

In late 2021, we announced the issuance of our first $1 billion sustainability bond to support initiatives and partnerships contributing to the advancement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Through June 2022, we allocated $760 million of the net proceeds toward social and green projects, in alignment with our sustainability financing framework.

While my colleagues and I are pleased by our 2022 progress, we remain committed to doing more to advance and protect the health of our employees, communities and planet. Indeed, I want to thank our colleagues and partners for the passion and expertise brought to this work every day. I’m honored to work alongside such a talented and dedicated team.

Thank you again for your interest in our company’s progress and performance. We’re excited for our future — and the unique opportunity we have to make a difference through our research, our medicines and vaccines, and our enduring commitment to sustainable innovation and value creation.

Very best regards,

Rob Davis

Chairman & Chief Executive Officer

Countries receiving donated Mectizan are located in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, South America, and the Western Pacific

NZ-NON-00393  Last Updated September 2023

Health Awareness

Understanding the importance and funding of medicines in New Zealand

September 1, 2023

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A woman talking to an older man.

“Medicines are a key part of the health and disability support system and make significant contributions to the lives of New Zealanders. They are used to treat a wide range of diseases and disorders and in some cases can be used to replace invasive procedures. Ultimately, medicines contribute to New Zealanders’ opportunities to maintain their independence and enhance their quality of life.” Associate Minister of Health & Minister of Health, 2007 1

New Zealand’s recently reformed public health system aims to protect, promote, and improve the health of all New Zealanders, including by achieving equity in health outcomes among population groups, and building towards pae ora (healthy futures) for all New Zealanders. These aims are achieved, in part, through the funding and provision of a range of goods and services, including medicines. 2

The responsibility for making decisions about the funding of medicines in New Zealand lies with Te Pātaka Whaioranga – Pharmac who work within a fixed medicines budget, set by Government. 3

Unfortunately, the model is not perfect. Only 34 additional modern prescription medicines* received public funding in New Zealand between 2011-2020. This means that New Zealanders with conditions like diabetes, asthma, heart disease, and cancer may be missing out on effective, innovative treatment options.4

Three jars of pills with people on them.

Many medicines that are publicly funded in other countries are not publicly funded in New Zealand 4

According to a Medicines New Zealand commissioned report by international health insights and research organisation, IQVIA, over the period 2011-2020 Great Britain funded 251 additional modern prescription medicines and Australia about half that number.

In the same period, New Zealand funded only 34. 4


*‘Modern prescription medicines’ are defined as prescription pharmaceutical medicines that meet the following criteria:

  • A medicine containing at least one new molecular entity (NME) that had not been previously registered and approved for use as a medicine in any of the 20 selected OECD countries compared in the analysis prior to 2011, and not a version or derivative of a previously registered medicine; or
  • A fixed dose combination medicine including at least one NME registered and launched on or after 1 January 2011. 4
A group of people are standing on tracks with text shows that New Zealand 822 days, Australia 460 days and Great Britain175 days.

New Zealanders wait a long time for medicines to be publicly funded 4

That same report also showed that between 2011 and 2020, the average time from registration to the public funding of modern prescription medicines in New Zealand was 822 days.4

In Australia, it was 460 days and in Great Britain it was 175 days.4

An illustration of a stack of books with the number of applications on the OFI

The Options for Investment (OFI) list “includes all applications that we (Pharmac) would fund if the budget allowed it” 5

The number of applications on the OFI waiting list has grown by 80% since 2016. 6, 7

There are now more than 100 applications for funding included on the list. Medicines on the waiting list are used to treat a wide range of health conditions such as diabetes, asthma, cancer, and rare disorders. 8

A group of people standing in a circle.

It’s a Hard Pill to Swallow

It has been estimated that, even excluding vaccines from the OFI waiting list, as many as 170,000 New Zealanders could receive publicly funded medicines in the first year if the OFI waiting list was cleared. 9

We are confident that more can be done to improve things for patients in need of medicines in New Zealand.

Find out more and engage with us

If you would like to find out more about these issues and engage with us please follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn.


  1. Associate Minister of Health, Ministry of Health. 2007. Medicines New Zealand: Contributing to good outcomes for all New Zealanders. Available at: Last Accessed 13.6.23.
  2. Pae Ora (Healthy Futures) Act 2022. Available at: Last Accessed 30.06.23.
  3. Pharmac. 2023. How Pharmac works. Available at: Last Accessed 30.06.23.
  4. IQVIA, 2021, A Decade of Modern Medicines: An International Comparison 2011-2020, report commissioned by Medicines New Zealand. Available at: Last Accessed 13.6.23
  5. Pharmac. 2023. Priority lists for funding applications. Available at: Last Accessed 13.6.23
  6. Pharmac, 2021, Medicines on PHARMAC’s ranking list. Available at: Last Accessed 13.6.23
  7. Pharmac. 2023. Number of proposals and medicines/therapeutic products on Pharmac’s Options for Investment (OFI) list. Available at: Last Accessed 13.6.23
  8. Pharmac. 2023. Options for investment list. Available at: Last Accessed 13.6.23
  9. HealthiNZ. 2023, Pharmac’s Medicines Waiting Lists: Impacts on Patients in Aotearoa New Zealand, report commissioned by Medicines New Zealand. Available at: Last Accessed 13.6.23

NZ-NON-00370. Issued August 2023. TAP NP19775

Health Awareness

Understanding early-stage cancer

Early cancer detection may lead to better treatment outcomes

September 12, 2022

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When taking on cancer, you want time on your side. The potential for a better outcome is greater when cancer is detected early, before it has spread. With more awareness around the importance of routine cancer screening, more cancer cases can be diagnosed in earlier stages. Important work is still needed to continually improve care for early-stage disease.

Understanding the different stages of cancer

When cancer is diagnosed, doctors perform tests to understand how advanced it is and whether or not it’s spread from the original site to other areas in the body. This information, known as staging, can provide important insights into the odds for recurrence (the cancer coming back) and recovery, and help guide treatment decisions.

Diagnosing and treating cancer earlier

When certain types of cancer are diagnosed early, patients may live longer if they receive treatment before the cancer spreads to distant parts of the body. The medical community generally considers cancer care a success when doctors can no longer detect the cancer five years following diagnosis.

Treating early-stage cancer

Treatment for early-stage cancer typically involves surgery. Radiation, chemotherapy and other medicines may also be used before surgery to help to reduce the size of the tumor, or after surgery to lower the chance of the cancer coming back.

“Care for people with metastatic cancer has changed dramatically in recent decades, while the approach to caring for people with early-stage disease has remained fairly traditional with surgery, sometimes coupled with chemotherapy or radiation.” Dr. Imai.

“Cancer research is moving in an exciting direction, with greater focus on discovering therapies for people with early-stage cancer. I’m hopeful that this research will deliver new options, and more time, to patients and their families,”

Kentaro Imai, M.D., M.P.H

MSD's Clinical director of oncology
Please talk to your doctor if you require further information or if you have any questions.


World Health Organization. Promoting cancer early diagnosis. Available at: Accessed on: 22 July 2021.

American Cancer Society. Find cancer early. Available at: Accessed on: 30 March 2021.

American Cancer Society. Treatment choices for non-small cell lung cancer by stage. Available at: Accessed on: 22 July 2021.

American Cancer Society. Treatment Choices for Small Cell Lung Cancer by stage. Available at: Accessed on: 19 May 2021.

American Cancer Society. Treatment of Colon Cancer by Stage. Available at: Accessed on: 21 May 2021.

American Cancer Society. Treatment of Rectal Cancer, by Stage. Available at: Accessed on: 22 July 2021.

American Cancer Society. Initial Treatment of Prostate Cancer by Stage. Available at: Accessed on: 21 May 2021. Stages of Cancer. Available at: Accessed on: 5 April 2021.

National Cancer Institute. NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms. Five-year survival rate. Available at: Accessed on: 20 March 2019.

National Cancer Institute. Dictionary of Cancer Terms. Neoadjuvant therapy. Available at: Accessed on: 22 June 2021.

National Cancer Institute. Dictionary of Cancer Terms. Adjuvant Therapy. Available at: Accessed on: 15 June 2021.

National Cancer Institute. NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms – Surgery. Available at: Accessed on: 15 June 2021.

American Cancer Society. Cancer Treatment & Survivorship Facts & Figures 2019-2021. Available at: Accessed on: July 2022.

TAPS NP18367. NZ-NON-00293. First Issued 5 September 2022

Health Awareness

Understanding melanoma: The signs, symptoms and risk factors

June 16, 2021

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a senior couples are doing gardening.

What is melanoma?

Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer. Characterised by the uncontrolled growth of pigment-producing cells, melanoma accounts for approximately 2% of new cancer cases worldwide.

Melanomas can occur anywhere on the skin, including areas without sun exposure, but they are more likely to start in certain locations.

Illustration of common sites

The average age of diagnosis is 65, but melanoma is not uncommon among people younger than 30. In fact, it’s one of the most common cancers in young adults — especially young women.

Rates have been rising for 30 years

In 2020, it's estimated that there were more than

new melanoma cases worldwide

Signs and symptoms

A new spot on the skin or one that changes in size, shape or color, or one that looks different — is an important warning sign of melanoma and should be checked by a doctor. The ABCDE rule outlines the characteristics of moles that may be melanomas and is helpful guidance for monitoring skin changes:

A is for Asymmetry

One half of a mole or birthmark does not match the other.

B is for Border

The edges are irregular, ragged, notched or blurred.

C is for Color

The color is not the same all over and may include different shades of brown or black, or sometimes with patches of pink, red, white, or blue.

D is for Diameter

The spot is more than 6 millimeters across (about 1/4 inch – the size of a pencil eraser), although melanomas can sometimes be smaller than this.

E is for Evolving

The mole is changing in size, shape, or color.

Any of these warning signs should be discussed with a doctor, especially if you feel you are at risk for melanoma.

Risk factors

  • Ultraviolet (UV) light exposure
  • Moles
  • Fair skin, freckles and light hair
  • Family history
  • Personal history of having melanoma or other skin cancers
  • Having a weakened immune system
  • Being older
  • Being male
  • Xeroderma pigmentosum (a rare skin condition that affects the skin’s ability to repair DNA damage)

Ways to lower risk

Melanoma can’t be entirely prevented, but there are ways to lower risk. The number one way to lower risk is to protect against UV rays, which damage the DNA of skin cells and impact the genes that control skin cell growth. The top source of UV rays is the sun. That’s why it’s important to practice sun safety every time you go outside, even on cloudy days when UV rays can still shine through. Here are a few ways to protect yourself:

Seek shade

UV exposure is greatest between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If you need to be outside during these hours, seek shade – under a tree, an umbrella or an awning.

Wear a hat

Try to find a hat with a wide brim – at least 2 or 3 inches wide – to protect your face, top of the head, ears and neck.

Cover up

Choose clothing with a tight knit or weave, and avoid shirts that you can see through. Remember, if light is getting through, then UV rays are too.

Use sunscreen

Use a water-resistant, broad spectrum sunscreen that has an SPF of at least 30, and has the AS/NZ 2604 standard on the label.

Wear sunglasses

Protect your eyes and the sensitive skin around them. Pick a pair that will block as close to 100 percent of both UVA and UVB rays as possible.

Summa Health: Skin Cancer 2020 Available at: Accessed on 17/03/2021
American Cancer Society: What is melanoma skin cancer? Available at: Accessed on 17/03/2021
International Agency for Research on Cancer: Melanoma of skin Fact Sheet. Global Cancer Observatory. Available at: Accessed on 8/03/2021
American Cancer Society: Key statistics for melanoma skin cancer. Available at: Accessed on 17/03/21
American Cancer Society: Risk factors for melanoma skin cancer. Available at: Accessed on 17/03/21
American Cancer Society: Signs and symptoms of melanoma skin cancer. Available at: Accessed on 17/03/21
American Cancer Society: Can melanoma skin cancer be prevented?. Available at: Accessed on 17/03/21
American Cancer Society: How do I protect myself from ultraviolet (UV) rays? Available at: Accessed on 17/03/21
Cancer Society New Zealand: SunSmart Accessed on 26/10/21

TAPS NA 13280 NZ-NON-00208 Last Updated October 2023