Childhood Melanoma: a parent’s guide to prevention and early detection
More than 400 children and adolescents in the U.S. are diagnosed with melanoma each year, and recent research suggests the rate of melanoma may be rising among adolescents.
What can you do to help protect your child from melanoma?
For babies younger than 6 months of age, protect them from sun (UV) exposure by keeping them in shade, out of direct sunlight and using hats, sunglasses and long sleeves and pants as protective clothing. Apply sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher (UVA, UVB broad spectrum protection) 30 minutes before going outside and every 2 hours while outdoors. Some sunscreens are water resistant, but none are waterproof, so reapply sunscreen generously while playing in water.
Parents can also help protect their children by ensuring they play in the shade during peak UV exposure times: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
For adolescents, encourage them to continue the great sunscreen practices you have already instilled in them and talk to your teen about the serious dangers of tanning bed use. Helpful tips for talking to your teen about tanning can be found at: http://www.skincancer.org/prevention/tanning/teens.
How can you help detect an early melanoma?
Check your child’s skin regularly. Any mole that is itching, burning, bleeding, changing colors, changing shape or growing rapidly should be checked by a doctor promptly. When checking moles on your child, remember the ABCDEs of melanoma to help identify potentially dangerous moles. That is, look for any asymmetry, border change, color change, diameter less than 6 mm (larger than a pencil eraser) or evolution (rapid growth or change).
It is also important to remember that some childhood melanomas may be pink or red and may not even look like a changing typical brown mole; the ABCDE guidelines may not be helpful for identifying these lesions. If any skin spot on your child seems worrisome, get it checked by a board certified dermatologist. Early detection of melanoma saves lives!
How to proceed if your child has been diagnosed with melanoma?
The melanoma team at Texas Children’s Hospital is here to help. Every child suspected of having melanoma is evaluated by our multidisciplinary team, which consists of specialists in pediatric dermatology, oncology and pathology. If detected at early stages, melanoma can be treated with surgery. For advanced stage melanoma, we offer a combination of surgery, radiation and medical therapies.
To learn more about melanoma, please visit here.