Children and Melanoma
Jeffrey Goldstein, MD, is a pediatric plastic surgeon at Cardon Children's Medical Center
Question: I was recently told that children are prone to developing skin cancer? Is this true and if so, what can I do to help protect my child?
Answer: Yes, this is true. The number of children with pediatric melanoma, the most lethal form of skin cancer, has grown more than 84 percent from 1975 to 2005 according to figures from the National Cancer Institute. If diagnosed and removed early, the cure rate is high. If diagnosed late, pediatric melanoma can spread and become life-threatening.
The disease, manifests differently in children than in adults. Sometimes, the growths can be the same color as the child's skin. They may also grow deeper instead of larger.
Children most likely to develop a melanoma are easily sunburned, have poor tanning ability and generally have light hair, blue eyes and pale skin. However, this does not rule out children with darker pigments or those who do tan easily.
Doctors believe the increase in adolescents and children can be linked to such activities such as going to the beach or playing outdoors without using sunscreen properly and often. Other causes include sunburns and the use of tanning-beds—all of which work to increase the chances of melanoma to children of any skin tone.
To help protect your child, parents should follow these tips:
- Stay inside or in the shade between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun’s rays are the strongest.
- If your child must be outside, dress them in protective clothing. Long cotton pants and sleeves as well as a hat offer better protection than just sunscreen.
- Apply zinc oxide or a children’s sunscreen to all exposed areas, including feet, when your child goes outside.
Parents should regularly check their children’s skin for differences in freckles, moles or other skin marks. Doing a check every quarter could mean the difference between a small surgery and a deadly diagnosis.