Steamboat Springs Grapes baked in the sun become raisins. Children baked in the sun become wrinkled, spotted adults at risk for skin cancer. But even children can get skin cancer.
Protecting your kids is part of parenting, so keeping them safe in the sun fits right in with, “Don’t light up” and “Don’t drink and drive.”
Although adults are most commonly affected by skin cancer, about 300 potentially deadly skin cancers are diagnosed among children every year. Unfortunately, because most parents do not expect to find skin cancer on children, this disease is often diagnosed at a later stage, leading to a poor outcome.
The most deadly form of skin cancer, melanoma, accounts for 1 to 3 percent of all childhood malignancies, and this number has been rising steadily.
Fifty percent of childhood melanomas arise on normal-appearing skin, and the remaining 50 percent arise in a pre-existing lesion such as a mole or birthmark. More than half of those skin cancers appear before puberty.
Large moles or birthmarks that appear on the back of the body in the midline have the greatest risk of becoming malignant and should be examined by a physician for possible biopsy.
Children are at greater risk for melanoma if there is a family history of melanoma, if they have fair skin or freckles, if they have more than 50 moles or if they have a large pigmented birthmark.
Other risk factors include a history of blistering sunburns, excessive sun exposure or use of tanning beds or an impaired immune system.
Early recognition and treatment is essential, so parents, teachers and physicians need to be aware of the possibility of melanoma in children and recognize the signs:
■ Sudden increase in the size of a mole or birthmark
■ Bleeding or itching of a skin growth
■ Change of color or shape of a mole or birthmark
■ Border irregularity
■ Color variation within a mole
■ Diameter of more than 6 millimeters
■ Evolving over time
■ Ugly duckling (the “odd” mole among many similar-appearing moles)
If your child has risk factors for melanoma or has a mole with any of the described suspicious signs, he or she should be examined by a physician. Close follow-up or a biopsy may be recommended.
Read more about how to prevent melanoma in children in the Monday Medical article in the May 7 Steamboat Today.
Dr. Maryann Wall — of Northwest Colorado Ear, Nose, Throat and Facial Plastic Surgery, PC. — is board-certified in otolaryngology, head and neck surgery and facial plastic and reconstructive surgery.