The deadliest form of skin cancer doesn’t usually occur in kids, but according to a new study, rates of melanoma in children are on the rise.
Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer and occurs when unrepaired DNA damage to skin cells triggers mutations that cause skin cells to multiply rapidly and form malignant tumors. While melanoma in children is still rare, the rate of occurrence has increased approximately 2 percent per year since 1973 among U.S. children from newborns to age 19. Melanoma now accounts for up to 3 percent of all pediatric cancers, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.
The study, which was published in the May issue of Pediatrics, found that the biggest jump in melanoma rates was among adolescent girls ages 15 to 19. Researchers also discovered that boys were more likely to have melanomas on their face and torso, while girls were more likely to develop the deadly cancer on their lower legs and hips.
Out of the children diagnosed with melanoma during the study time frame, 93 percent of them were white. Because the number of melanoma cases among other racial groups was so small, researchers focused their analysis on white children.
The scientists used a database to determine these trends in childhood melanoma, but they did not have information on the children’s tanning habits or sun exposure history.
Recent studies have shown that melanoma is increasing among adults as well. Although scientists aren’t exactly sure why, many think increased exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from both the sun and tanning booths may be responsible. Risks for melanoma among children and adults include fair skin, light-colored hair and eyes, moles, a history of sunburns and a family history of melanoma.
Dr. Amy Forman Taub, a dermatologist in Lincolnshire, Ill., said that tanning behaviors and vacations have a lot to do with the increasing rates of melanoma in both children and adults. Taub also explained that melanoma in children looks very similar to melanoma in adults. Moles that are cancerous often have irregular borders, are asymmetrical (halves are not equal), have an uneven color and a diameter that is larger than 6 millimeters (about one-fifth of an inch).
"Parents should be aware of any new or changing moles in their children," said Taub.
So how can you help protect your kids from developing melanoma? To start, check your child’s moles frequently and don’t ignore moles that appear to be changing. Make sure your kids are wearing sunscreen whenever they’re going to be outside, even if it’s cloudy. It’s important to choose a sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays and reapply it frequently. Sun-smart clothing can also help protect children, such as t-shirts and hats.
Don’t forget – children also need to be checked regularly by a dermatologist. Greenville Dermatology’s new MelaFind machine can help discover irregular moles faster than before. To schedule an appointment with Greenville Dermatology, call us today at (864) 242-5872.