Caring for Kids…at Billings Clinic

Melanoma on the rise in young people

Why is a pediatrician talking about melanoma?  Isn’t skin cancer an old people thing?  Unfortunately, that is not the case. Children can get melanoma and most of the sun damage leading to melanoma happens as teens and young adults.  A recent report from the American Society of Clinical Oncology showed that melanoma is up 250% among children and young adults.  Melanoma is the third most common cancer in those 15 to 39 years of age.   Young women are especially vulnerable accounting for 65% of diagnoses in 2011 up from 57% in the late 70s.

Why is this happening?  You are smarter than your parents and grandparents who didn’t even know what sunscreen was, right?  You might know that now, but for some reason teens and young adults still act like they have never heard of sunscreen.   I admit, as a young adult I fell for the common misconceptions like, “Tanning is okay if you don’t burn” and “Tanning booths are okay for a base tan to prevent sunburns.”  Now, it is known that all tanning increases your risk of melanoma.

There is no safe sun exposure. Period.

Unprotected sun exposure equals skin damage.  What about that vitamin D you hear so much about?  If you are worried about getting enough vitamin D, it is better to take a supplement than be in the sun unprotected.

Okay, so I convinced you that protecting your skin is important.  What do you do?  There are 4 things: prevention, prevention, prevention and detection.  Alright, it is just two things but prevention is really important.

Here are some things to keep in mind.

  • Kids over 6 months should wear sunscreen everywhere on their skin that is not covered by clothing
  • Use sunscreen daily, even on cloudy days
  • Use at least SPF 30 (both UVA and UVB protection)
  • Apply sunscreen at least 20 minutes before exposure to the sun and reapply every 2 hours
  • If kids are in the water or toweling off frequently reapply sunscreen hourly
  • Avoid mid-day sun between 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
  • Choose outdoor activities with covered/shaded areas as often as possible
  • Babies should always avoid direct sun exposure
  • Don’t forget to wear sunglasses (melanoma can happen in the eye and around the eye)
  • Winter sports like skiing also require the use of sunscreen
  • NO TANNING or TANNING BOOTHS  (Moms this means you too)

It is possible to detect melanoma. Warning signs may include changes in color, growth, bleeding, itching and irregularity of moles. There is no standard for when children should begin annual visits to a dermatologist, but Samuel Reck, MD, Billings Clinic’s pediatric dermatologist, feels it should be considered for teens that are at high risk of developing melanoma. Risk factors include:

  • a first degree relative (parents or siblings) with melanoma
  • having more than 50 moles
  • large or atypical moles
  • fair skin

If you have more questions about melanoma this link is a great resource.

If you have additional concerns or want to learn more, contact your child’s pediatrician or dermatologist.  

Kathryn Lysinger, MD

I am a part-time pediatrician and full-time mom of 5 year old Jacob and 3 year old Lauren. After several years away in the “big city” my husband Jeri and I are excited to be back home in Montana. When not working I love to travel, cook and can’t wait to get the entire family back on the slopes in my hometown Red Lodge, MT.

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