Early stage melanoma could be identified with a cheap blood test, a group of melanoma experts who gathered in Queenstown have been told.
Professor Mel Ziman from the School of Medical and Health Sciences at Perth's Edith Cowan University says early detection is key with melanoma.
"It is an aggressive cancer," she said.
"Once it has spread through the body, average survival is six to nine months, with less than 40 per cent of patients surviving five years."
New Zealand and Australia have the highest incidence of melanoma in the world - more than 2400 Kiwis are diagnosed and 350 die from it each year.
"At the moment, suspicious lesions are biopsied and examined by a pathologist. In some cases diagnosis is difficult and not always certain, particularly with very early melanomas and those without colour."
A blood test that identifies auto antibodies produced by the body in response to melanoma is being developed and Prof Ziman hopes it will be routinely available within five years.
Her team is also monitoring the DNA of patients who finish treatment to see if they remain disease-free.
At the gathering in Queenstown, attendees were also told of a melanoma risk prediction tool that is being created for Australian GPs.
It uses eight weighted factors to predict whether a person could be at risk of the disease within three years - age, gender, tanning ability, hair colour, number of moles as a teenager, whether they've had a non-melanoma skin cancer, family history and sunscreen use.
The prediction tool was developed after collecting data from 44,000 Queenslanders aged 40 to 69, none of whom had melanoma at the time.
A simple questionnaire can be completed with a GP and the tool is being evaluated in a clinical setting and could be available for use in general practice in New Zealand within a couple of years.