Preventing Childhood Melanoma

Although skin cancer -- particularly melanoma -- is rare in children, research shows the rate is rising. Kids can get melanoma at any age, with the most significant increase seen in adolescent girls between the ages of 15 and 19. Whether your youngster is small or a teen, being aware of the causes and risk factors is a step toward taking the necessary preventive measures to protect against skin cancer.

Risk Factors

The Skin Cancer Foundation reports that up to 3 percent of pediatric cancers are melanoma. It accounts for 6 percent of cancer cases in teens. That's why it helps to know that certain risk factors increase the chances of your child getting melanoma skin cancer:

  • Over exposure to the sun's damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays

  • Tanning beds

  • Frequent sunburns

  • Moles

  • Fair or freckled skin that burns easily

  • Light-colored hair and eyes

  • Immune system weakened by disease or medical treatment

  • Family history of skin cancers

What to Look For

Melanoma in children looks much like it does in adults; therefore, it's important to note any changes in a child's skin or moles. Knowing the signs of skin cancer can lead to early detection, which increases the likelihood treatment will be successful.

Symptoms of melanoma to look for include:

  • New moles or other abnormal growths appearing on the skin

  • Moles that have irregular borders and uneven color

  • Moles that grow larger in size

  • Moles that ooze or bleed

  • Sores that don't heal

Although most moles never turn into skin cancer, having many moles -- especially if they are large -- increases the chances of developing melanoma. Normal moles usually are no bigger than a pencil eraser.


The best defense against skin cancer is prevention. You can help protect your child by doing the following:

When your child plays outside for extended periods of time, reapply sunscreen every two hours. A wide-brimmed hat with the brim angled downward and sunglasses offer added protection from the sun.

  1. Keep him or her out of the sun, particularly during the midday hours. If your child spends a lot of time outdoors, encourage him or her to play in the shade as much as possible. Teenagers who love outdoor activities should spend time in the shade as well.

  2. Apply sunscreen with a minimum sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 to areas of exposed skin not covered by clothing, recommends the American Academy of Dermatology. While girls are more apt to develop melanoma on their lower legs and hips, boys tend to get this skin cancer on their faces and trunks.

  3. Advise your teen to skip the tanning bed. Both sun lamps and tanning beds give off UV rays that can contribute to skin cancer. The Skin Cancer Foundation reports that a single trip to the tanning bed can increase an individual's chances of developing melanoma by 20 percent.

  4. Examine your child's skin all over at least once a month. If he or she has a lot of moles or other risk factors, you may want to have a dermatologist perform an annual routine exam. Teach your teen how to do regular self-exams. For more information about skin cancer, contact Southwest Dermatology Institute