Children love to spend time playing out in the sun, but they aren't exempt from the rules of proper sun protection. Still, even a parent's best efforts to protect their child's skin from sunburns and sun damage may not be enough to prevent diseases like melanoma.
Childhood melanoma is a rare but serious form of cancer. Here's what to know about the risk of melanoma in children and how to make sure you're doing all you can to protect your little ones.
Rates of Childhood Melanoma
The average age of a person diagnosed with melanoma is 65, according to the American Cancer Society. The risk of melanoma increases with age, so children are at a lower risk. In fact, melanoma accounts for only about 2 percent of childhood cancers, per the MD Anderson Cancer Center.
The annual incidence of pediatric melanoma is as follows, according to the AIM at Melanoma Foundation:
Children under 10: <1.8 cases per 1 million
Children between 10-14: 3.2 cases per 1 million
Children between 15-19: 10.4 cases per 1 million
Overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun is a known contributor to melanoma. If you have a history of sunburns from when you were young, you may be at greater risk, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
The exact cause of melanoma in children is unknown, but factors like family history, skin conditions, inherited disorders, and personal health history can all play a part. Children who have a tendency to burn instead of tan—usually those with fair skin, light hair, light eyes, and a large number of freckles and moles—may also be at increased risk.
According to the Journal of Clinical Oncology, the risk of pediatric melanoma is higher among white, female patients and increases by 46 percent per year of age. Although reports indicate it's less common in children of color, everyone should take precautions when it comes to sun safety.
Prevention and Safety Measures
Childhood melanoma is rare, but it's still something to keep in mind as your child grows. The older they get, the higher their risk. Getting a lot of overexposure during their childhood can also increase their risk as an adult, so it's important to teach proper sun safety habits while they're young, including frequent at-home skin checks.
If you catch melanoma early, it can be easily treated, so it's important to know the signs and pay close attention to any spots on your child's skin. According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, melanoma can look different in children. Here's what you should look out for:
- Single-color spots or growths: Melanoma can be a variety of colors in adults, but it usually manifests as one color in children, and it may not be black or brown.
- Bleeding or itchy spots: Many children get bleeding or itchy spots on their skin, while adults may not feel any discomfort.
- Open sores: Melanomas may manifest as open sores on children that heal and return.
- Bump that grows: A melanoma is typically flat on adults, but it's raised—and quickly changing—on children.
- Dark streaks beneath fingernails and toenails: Melanoma can show up under the nails, so be diligent in checking their fingers and toes.
Like adults, children should limit their time spent outdoors, even on overcast days. While playing outside, encourage them to take breaks in the shade, wear clothes and accessories that protect their skin, and reapply sunscreen often. If you're not around, the EltaMD UV Stick Broad-Spectrum SPF 50+ is easy and mess-free so they can reapply on their own.
As a parent, you always want to protect and care for your children. By teaching them the importance of daily sunscreen and sun safety, they—and you—can enjoy time spent outside, worry-free.