Chances are, you already take certain precautions with your kids when they’re in the sun, whether it’s sunscreen, hats, or getting into the shade after some time in the sun. Now, new research is shedding light on why it’s even more important than ever.
Melanoma is still extremely rare in children—425 new cases are diagnosed each year in the U.S. for kids ages 19 and under. But it’s been slowly on the rise by about 2 percent a year, which is troubling.
Up until this point, pediatric melanoma has been a bit of a mystery—the medical community has not known whether the causes and treatments could be thought of just like the adult version of the disease.
Now, researchers from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital studied 23 melanoma patients between the ages of 9 months and 19 years old and looked at their genes.
The group included 15 patients with conventional melanoma. Unlike many pediatric cancers, their tumors included numerous genetic alterations, more than any of the childhood cancers studied so far by the Pediatric Cancer Genome Project. More than 90 percent of the tumors had genetic changes consistent with damage caused by ultraviolet light.
The study is the first genetic evidence that sun damage contributes to melanoma in children and adolescents as well as adults.
“We were surprised to see that so many of the pediatric melanomas had genetic changes linked to UV damage,” said co-author Richard K. Wilson, Ph.D., director of The Genome Institute at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. “This in-depth look at the genomics of pediatric melanoma is extraordinarily important for diagnosis and for selecting treatments that give young patients the best chances of a cure.”
What is Melanoma?
Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer because it often spreads to other parts of the body. People with fair skin who sunburn easily and are more likely to develop melanoma.
Other factors that may increase the likelihood of developing melanoma include use of tanning booths, severe sunburns in childhood and genetic conditions.
How Can You Spot Melanoma?
A: Asymmetry: Unlike normal freckles which are symmetrical, skin cancer marks cannot be perfectly halved.
B: Border: The border of the spot is blurry or jagged.
C: Color: When a mole or mark is more than one shade or color, have it examined by a doctor.
D: Diameter: A quick way to check if a spot is abnormal is to size it up against a pencil eraser. If it’s larger, get it checked out.
E: Elevation: The mark is raised above the skin and has an uneven surface, which could have a smooth, rough, or pebbly texture.