Melanoma the most serious type of skin cancer, is rare in children, but that does not mean that it never occurs. In fact, statistics from the Australian National Cancer Control Indicators show that 14,000 Australians will be diagnosed with melanoma this year.
Only 0.34 per 100,000 of those patients will be children under the age of 15. Whilst that may seem like a small number, experts observed that melanoma in children has increased by about 2% in the last 40 years, affecting about 100 kids every year.
What Causes Melanoma in Children?
The amount of sun exposure in the first ten years of life has an impact on one’s lifetime potential for skin cancer. Persistent sun damage over years can result in developing skin cancer. With the strong UV rays hitting Australia every day, parents do need to be aware of the dangers of repeated sunburns in their children.
The Cancer Council of Queensland reports that the highest levels of childhood skin cancers are found in the 10–14 age group. Among them, it has been discovered that those who had three or more sunburns (even light ones) per season experienced the highest risk of developing melanoma.
That said, sunburns are not the only factors researchers are citing for higher skin cancer risks among children. Other risk factors include the following:
- Genetics — when one or more relatives with skin cancer
- When they are born with melanocyte nevi (commonly called birth marks)
- Paler skin
- Blonde or red hair
- Blue or green eyes
- Freckles — the more freckles a child has, the higher risk of developing skin cancer (including melanoma)
- Atypical moles — unusual-looking benign mole (very common in children)
Where Is Melanoma Most Found in Children?
Melanoma is most usually found on areas that are often exposed to the sun, like the face, scalp, ears, face, legs and arms. But that does not mean it is the only place to check.
It is important to monitor all moles by checking regularly for changes. It is especially important to check moles in places not normally seen (like the back of the neck, back, buttocks, armpits, etc.).
Looking for Signs: What Melanoma Looks Like in Children
Every skin cancer or melanoma is different, and each showcase their own distinct characteristics. This can make it challenging for a parent to distinguish between a safe (and normal) mole and a suspicious one.
An important point parents should not forget is that new moles, changing moles, and ones that itch or bleed should never be ignored.
Here are some other things to look for when checking your child’s moles:
- Asymmetry. When you draw an imaginary line on a normal mole, the two sides should match (symmetrical). If you notice that one side looks different than the other, have it checked.
- Border. A normal mole’s border is smooth and even. Ragged or jagged edges should be checked.
- Colour. Most moles have a consistent colour. Often, it’s just one shade of brown. When the colour of a mole varies (different shades of brown or — in cases of melanoma — red, white, or blue), it may be a sign of trouble.
- Diameter. Normal moles are small in diameter. Any mole larger than a pencil eraser (6 mm) should be reviewed by a skin cancer specialist. Also, note a change in size of moles.
It is important to understand the causes of melanoma, the areas of the body that you need to check, and the signs you need to look out for. It’s also important to know what to do when you’re still unsure about your child’s mole or when you are suspect your child is at risk.
Taking the Next Step
Early detection is the key to any type of skin cancer, including melanoma. But many parents simply do not feel comfortable doing regular skin checks on their own.
If you think your child is at risk based, it is always best to see your GP or dermatologist for review and assessment.
If your child is under 16 years of age and you would like a Full Body Molemap (a thorough head to toe skin check and surveillance program designed to monitor changes over time), please see your GP and request a referral to Molemap by Dermatologists.
If your child is under 16 years old and you would like a Molemap Skin Check (a thorough head to toe skin check), you can contact Molemap by Dermatologists directly to make a booking. No referral necessary.
All Molemap by Dermatologists melanographers are trained in the early detection and imaging of melanoma and other skin cancers. Their melanography training is accredited by the Australasian College of Dermatologists. After the appointment all imaged lesions are reviewed and diagnosed by a specialist dermatologist. Molemap are experts at detecting and diagnosis melanoma early — when it’s most treatable.
Keen to know about Molemap’s services? Visit our Services page to find out more.