Skin Cancer in Children

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • The leading cause of skin cancer is repeated exposure to the sun’s UV rays. Even one blistering sunburn as a child doubles the risk of developing skin cancer later in life. For most people, skin cancer develops as in adulthood but although it is uncommon in children, rates are increasing.

    Dr. Bernard Cohen, director of pediatric dermatology at John Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore reported seeing more cases of skin cancer in an article on According to Cohen, 10 years ago he never saw skin cancer in children but now he sees several cases every year. And that includes not just melanoma but basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas. [1]

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    As of 2002, approximately 500 cases of childhood skin cancer were diagnosed each year [National Cancer Institute]. A study published in the May 2013 issue of Pediatrics showed that rates of skin cancer in children have increased by 2 percent a year from 1973 to 2009. Around 3 percent of childhood cancers are melanoma.

    Most of the increase in skin cancer was found in teenage girls between the ages of 15 and 19, possibly because this group visits tanning booths or lays out in the sun to tan more often than other groups of children. The recent study found that melanoma was more likely to be found on the lower legs or hips of girls and on the face or trunk in boys.

    Unfortunately, because of the rarity of skin cancer in children, parents and doctors aren’t always on the look-out and therefore, the cancer can be more developed by the time it is diagnosed.

    Differences in Appearance

    Melanoma in adults is characterized by a dark mole or lesion with uneven borders. But, in children melanoma lesions may be lighter and the borders even and well-defined. This difference may make parents and doctors delay a diagnosis.

    While the ABCDE (asymmetry, border, color, diameter, elevation) method should be used when examining moles and spots on your child’s skin parents should also check for:

    • A mole or birthmark that suddenly increases in size
    • Skin growths that bleed or itch
    • Moles or birthmarks that change in color

    If you notice any of these signs, you should contact a dermatologist and have your child checked.

    Additional Risk Factors

    Over-exposure of the sun’s UV rays is the biggest risk factor in developing skin cancer. But there are additional factors that put children at risk including:

    • A family history of melanoma
    • More than 50 moles on the body
    • Fair skin
    • History of precancerous moles

    Dr. Judith Hellman explained that skin examinations should begin “From birth on. Some children are born with congenital moles and some of those can pose a risk of skin cancer.” [2] Paying attention when our children are babies is usually easier. As parents, we know every inch of our child’s body, but as they get older, begin to dress themselves or take baths without our supervision, skin checks should continue. Skin cancer before puberty is rare, but it does happen and the sooner you notice any changes, the sooner you can have your child checked. Early detection and treatment is just as important in children as it is in adults.

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    Using sunscreen, keeping children out of the sun between 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM as much as possible and using clothing to help protect against the sun’s rays is the best way to prevent skin cancer.


    “Melanoma Rates Rising in U.S. Children,” 2013, April 3, Denise Mann,

    [1] “Rates of Skin Cancer in Children Increasing,” 2012, Sept. 5, Doreen Gentzler, NBCNews

    [2] “Skin Cancer Checks for Kids: When to Take Them,” 2013, May 17, Lisa Steinke,

Published On: July 03, 2013