Skin Cancer in Children on the Rise

Skin Cancer in Children on the Rise

Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer. Usually found in adults, medical experts are reporting that it is currently on the rise in children. Melanoma now comprises about 3 percent of all pediatric cancers. The rate of melanoma in children in the United States increased about 2 percent per year from 1973 to 2009, according to a study published in the print issue of the May 2013, issue of Pediatrics. Skin cancer in children is becoming a serious issue.

The study, led by Jeannette Wong of the U.S. National Cancer Institute, examined 1,317 children diagnosed with melanoma within a specific time frame. Of those, 1,230 were white. Because children of other racial and ethnic backgrounds represented just a tiny fraction of the number of children with melanoma, the study analysis focused on the white children. Other risk factors for melanoma included light hair, fair skin, light colored eyes, a history of sunburn, and family history of melanoma.

The researchers found that the greatest increase in melanoma rates was seen in teens between the ages of 15 and 19. The majority of those teens were girls. The study found that boys tended to develop melanoma on their faces or trunks, but that the cancer developed more often on the hips and lower legs in girls.  The increased use of tanning beds, or habitually lying in bright sunlight in order to tan, is one likely cause of the increased melanoma rate within the white teen population.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in a 2011 survey that 29 percent of white high school girls use tanning beds. The American Academy of Dermatology and the World Health Organization report that the use of tanning beds increases the risk of developing melanoma by 59 percent. Tanning beds deliver 10 to 15 times the dose of UV Radiation as that found in the midday sun.  The World Health Organization classifies all UV radiation as a carcinogen.

Children and adolescents, especially those who are white, should be examined regularly for the tell tale signs of melanoma. These include moles that have irregular or asymmetrical borders and uneven color.  Be suspicious of moles that are larger than a pencil eraser, or moles and skin discolorations that appear to be changing or evolving. Itching or bleeding moles should also be closely examined.

One of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of melanoma and skin cancer in children and teens is to restrict exposure to sun or tanning beds. Regular use of sunscreens that block both UVA and UVB radiation is important. Floppy hats and UV protective swimwear and clothing are readily available and should be worn outside by at-risk individuals.

Melanoma can be treated and cured if caught early. Vigilant caregivers and regular skin examinations are some of the best defenses for this deadly serious problem.

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