Melanoma in Teens: Skin Cancer Isn't Just for the Elderly

by Eileen Bailey Health Writer

When you think of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, you might think this is only a disease of the elderly. But it's the second most common form of cancer in people between the ages of 15 and 29 years old, according to the Melanoma Research Foundation. In fact, the number of young people with skin cancer continues to rise.

Despite the warnings about sun exposure, only 13 percent of high school girls and seven percent of boys reported using sunscreen on a regular basis, and about one-third of teens aged 14 to 17 reported having a sunburn in the last year, according to a national survey completed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (The myths that having a base tan protects you from skin cancer or that a sunburn is a good way to “start your summer tan” are still far too prevalent.)

Then there's the "attractiveness" factor, with one study indicating that 60 percent of teens buy into the idea that someone with a tan is more attractive than someone without. Teens often spend time in the sun and in tanning facilities, even though many states have enacted legislation barring those under the age of 18 from using indoor tanning facilities, and the FDA requires a warning on sunlamps and UV lamps. Even young adults are at risk when using tanning beds. Those who first use a tanning bed before the age of 35 increase their risk of developing melanoma by 75 percent according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. The American Academy of Dermatology estimates that indoor tanning may cause upward of 400,000 cases of skin cancer in the United States each year.

Skin cancer is probably from the result of a combination of genetics and sun exposure. Everyone is at risk of developing skin cancer, even people of color, but some people have a higher risk and should take extra precautions. High risk factors include:

  • Fair complexion

  • Freckles, blue eyes, blond or red hair

  • Burns easily

  • Multiple moles (more than 25)

  • UV exposure (outdoor or tanning bed)

  • History of sunburns

  • Family history of melanoma or irregular moles

Melanoma is one of the fastest growing cancers. It can start anywhere on the body, unlike other types of skin cancer which most often begin on areas of the skin exposed to the sun. With early detection, which means it is caught when it is still located only on the surface of the skin, there is almost a 100 percent cure rate for melanoma. When not treated early, melanoma can spread to other parts of the body, including the lungs and brain.

During childhood, parents have more control over the use of sunscreen when their children go outside. But once children reach the age of around 12 and up, they can go out alone with more ease, neglecting sunscreen. Some might stay at the beach or the pool without ever once applying sunscreen.

Warning signs

Melanoma usually, but not always, begins with changes in an existing mole. That’s why knowing where your moles are and what they look like are is so important. As soon as you notice changes, make an appointment with a dermatologist. Some of the ways moles change include:

  • Increase in size

  • Changes shape

  • Outline becomes blurred, rough, or jagged

  • Becomes darker or turns red

  • Has more than one color

  • Becomes itchy or painful

  • Gets crusty or bleeds.

What parents can dalk with your pediatrician and ask him or her to address skin cancer risks during annual physicals and complete full body checks for suspicious moles. Your pediatrician also can discuss sun safety. Having a doctor discuss it with adolescents helps to reinforce that it is a serious concern and not just a parent nagging.

ve sunscreen of SPF 30+ available at home. Remind kids that sunscreen is needed even on cloudy days. Insist that your children apply sunscreen before leaving the house.

Talk to your child’s **school about instituting sun safety**, including having sunscreen available, allowing children to apply sunscreen, and creating shady areas for the children at recess.

Make putting on sunscreen part of your daily routine. Your children are more apt to continue using sunscreen if they see you do it every day.

Download a free Skin Self-Exam Kit with instructions on how to properly monitor and measure suspicious moles and examples of what to look for. Have everyone in the family complete a self-check once a year.

Eileen Bailey
Meet Our Writer
Eileen Bailey

Eileen Bailey is an award-winning author of six books on health and parenting topics and freelance writer specializing in health topics including ADHD, Anxiety, Sexual Health, Skin Care, Psoriasis and Skin Cancer. Her wish is to provide readers with relevant and practical information on health conditions to help them make informed decisions regarding their health care.