Skin cancer is more dangerous for people who have darker skin, despite those with fair skin being more at risk, a Rotorua health worker warns.
Cancer Society health promotions manager for Rotorua, Melanie Desmarais, told The Daily Post that Rotorua had relatively low rates of melanoma, the most common type of skin cancer in New Zealand.
Latest available figures show 10 people died from melanoma in the Lakes region in 2008, far less than the Bay of Plenty, which recorded 34 melanoma deaths that year.
Mrs Desmarais said the difference in numbers was probably due to Rotorua's high Maori population.
"People with darker skin are a lot less likely to get skin cancer ... but that doesn't mean to say if you are [a ] Maori or Pacific Island [person] you are not at risk."
She warned that in many Maori and Pacific Island people who had been diagnosed with skin cancer, tumours were fast acting and more dangerous.
"So it's important for everybody to practise safe sun protection ... and follow the 'slip, slop, slap' sunsmart message."
Melanoma Foundation of New Zealand interim chief executive Kylie Williams said too many New Zealanders had the wrong attitude when it came to the "sunny outdoors".
"New Zealand has the highest rates of melanoma in the world and we have the most blase attitude when it comes to sun protection - especially in men and teenagers."
An independent survey revealing fewer than one in 10 Kiwi men wore sunscreen was bitterly disappointing for the organisation.
"We have so many Kiwi males who have outdoor jobs ... and put themselves at risk every day."
The strike rate for melanoma, which kills about 300 Kiwis every year, was also higher in men than women, Mrs Williams said.
"It is the fourth most common cancer in New Zealand and ... in males aged 25 to 44 years it is the most common cancer."
And the statistics were getting worse. Between 1998 and 2008, the number of reported cases rose by 12 per cent for males and 16 per cent for females, according to the Melanoma Foundation.
"There has also been an increase in the number of teenagers getting diagnosed which is a serious concern," Mrs Williams said. "The worst thing you can do is let your children get burned. People have got to be vigilant about it. We get people who are diagnosed with melanoma in their 50s, but the damage had been done decades earlier."
The Canstar Blue survey, which looked at the skin protection habits of about 1400 Kiwis, also found those between 20 and 30 were the worst at looking after their skin, with 64 per cent only wearing sunscreen on sunny days.
Mrs Williams said the findings were "crazy".
"If you compare it to the precautions we take when driving and how everyone is quite happy to put on a seatbelt, but then they will go out into the sun and fry themselves - it just doesn't make sense because more people die from melanoma every year than on our roads."