Skin cancer is a malignant tumor that grows in the skin cells. In the US alone, more than 2 million Americans will be diagnosed in 2013 with nonmelanoma skin cancer, and more than 76,000 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.
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 later in life.
Limiting exposure to sunlight in children and teens may pay large dividends in preventing cancers later in life.
There are three main types of skin cancer, including:
|Basal cell carcinoma||Basal cell carcinoma accounts for the majority of all diagnosed skin cancers. This highly treatable cancer starts in the basal cell layer of the epidermis (the top layer of skin) and grows very slowly. Basal cell carcinoma usually appears as a small, shiny bump or nodule on the skin, mainly those areas exposed to the sun, such as the head, neck, arms, hands, and face. It more commonly occurs among people with light-colored eyes, hair, and complexion.|
|Squamous cell carcinoma||Squamous cell carcinoma, although more aggressive than basal cell carcinoma, is highly treatable. It accounts for a much smaller percentage of all skin cancers. Squamous cell carcinoma may appear as nodules or red, scaly patches of skin, and may be found on the face, ears, lips, and mouth. Squamous cell carcinoma can spread to other parts of the body, although this is rare. This type of skin cancer is usually found in fair-skinned people.|
|Malignant melanoma||Malignant melanoma accounts for a small percentage of all skin cancers, but accounts for most deaths from skin cancer. Malignant melanoma starts in the melanocyte cells that produce pigment in the skin. Malignant melanoma sometimes begins as a mole that then turns cancerous. This cancer may spread quickly. Malignant melanoma most often appears on fair-skinned men and women, but people with all skin types may be affected.|
To find melanoma early, 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. Larger 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:
|Normal mole / melanoma||Sign||
|Asymmetry||When half of the mole does not match the other half|
When the border (edges) of the mole are ragged or irregular
|Color||When the color of the mole varies throughout|
|Diameter||If the mole's diameter is larger than a pencil's eraser|
|Photographs Used By Permission: National Cancer Institute|
Melanomas vary greatly in appearance. Some melanomas may show all of the ABCD characteristics, while other may show few or none. New moles, moles that have grown or changed, and moles that are itchy or bleeding should be checked by your child's doctor. Always consult your child's doctor if you have questions about a mole or other skin lesion..
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. Other risk factors include:
The following steps have been recommended by The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) and the Skin Cancer Foundation to help reduce the risk of sunburn and skin cancer:
The American Academy of Pediatrics approves of the use of sunscreen on infants younger than 6 months old if adequate clothing and shade are not available. Parents should still try to avoid sun exposure and dress the infant in lightweight clothing that covers most surface areas of skin. However, parents also may apply a minimal amount of sunscreen to the infant's face and back of the hands.
Remember, sand and pavement reflect UV rays even under an umbrella. Snow is a particularly good reflector of UV rays. Reflective surfaces can reflect up to 80 percent of the damaging sun rays.
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 AAD:
Click here to view the
Online Resources of Dermatology