What is skin cancer?
Skin cancer is a malignant tumor that grows in the skin cells and accounts for more than 50 percent of all cancers. In the US alone, more than 1 million Americans will be diagnosed in 2006 with nonmelanoma skin cancer, and 62,190 will be diagnosed with melanoma, according to the American Cancer Society.
Fortunately, skin cancers (basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma, and malignant melanoma) are rare in children. When melanomas occur, they usually arise from pigmented nevi (moles) that are large (diameter greater than 6 mm), asymmetric, with irregular borders and coloration. Bleeding, itching, and a mass under the skin are other signs of cancerous change. If a child has had radiation treatment for cancer, nevi in the radiated area are at increased risk of becoming cancerous.
What causes skin cancer?
Exposure to sunlight is the major contributing factor to developing skin cancer later in life. In particular, blistering sunburns in childhood and adolescence significantly increase the risk of developing malignant melanoma.
Most people receive more than 50 percent of their lifetime ultraviolet (UV) dose by 20 years of age. Limiting exposure to sunlight in children and teens may pay large dividends in preventing cancers later in life.
What are the different types of skin cancer?
There are three main types of skin cancer, including:
Distinguishing benign moles from melanoma:
To prevent melanoma, it is important to examine your child's skin on a regular basis, and become familiar with moles, and other skin conditions, in order to better identify changes. According to recent research, certain moles are at higher risk for changing into malignant melanoma. Moles that are present at birth and atypical moles, have a greater chance of becoming malignant. Recognizing changes in your child's moles, by following this ABCD Chart, is crucial in detecting malignant melanoma at its earliest stage. The warning signs are:
Melanomas vary greatly in appearance. Some melanomas may show all of the ABCD characteristics, while other may only show changes in one or two characteristics. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.
What are the risk factors for melanoma?
Skin cancer is more common in fair-skinned people - especially those with blond or red hair, who have light-colored eyes. Skin cancer is rare in children. However, no one is safe from skin cancer. Almost half of all Americans who live to age 65 will be diagnosed with skin cancer at some point in their lives, according to the National Cancer Institute. Other risk factors include:
Prevention of skin cancer:
The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) has declared war on skin cancer by recommending these three preventive steps:
The following six steps have been recommended by the AAD and the Skin Cancer Foundation to help reduce the risk of sunburn and skin cancer.
Remember, sand and pavement reflect UV rays even under the umbrella. Snow is a particularly good reflector of UV rays. Reflective surfaces can reflect up to 85 percent of the damaging sun rays.
How to perform a skin examination:
Finding suspicious moles or skin cancer early is the key to treating skin cancer successfully. Examining your children (and yourself) is usually the first step in detecting skin cancer. The following suggested method of examination comes from the American Cancer Society:
It is important to remember the health information found on this website is for reference only not intended to replace the advice and guidance of your healthcare provider. Always seek the advice of your physician with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your physician or 911 immediately.
© Children's Hospital of Orange County