Protect Against Melanoma in Kids

June 8, 2015 Elizabeth Meade, MD

A study recently reported that melanoma rates have risen 250% in children and young adults since the 1970s.  Another study found that between 1973 and 2009, pediatric melanomas (age 19 or younger) increased by 2% per year.  As medical providers we are seeing an upward trend in skin cancers in all age groups – but predominantly among young women, which is thought to be due to tanning practices.  We also know that even rare sunburns early in childhood can dramatically increase risk for melanoma later in life.  There are lots of ways that parents can help protect children from sun exposure – here are some tips to help us do our best as summer approaches!

Facts about melanoma

  • Risk factors for getting melanoma include fair skin (especially with red or blond hair and blue or green eyes), skin that rarely tans or easily burns, and those people who have large/unusual moles or more than 50 moles.  However, ANYONE can get melanoma, including people with very dark skin.
  • Tanning – outdoors, in tanning beds, or with sun lamps – dramatically increases your risk for melanoma.  Indoor tanning increases your risk by 75%.
  • Bad sunburns, even in childhood, also increase the chance that you will develop melanoma later in life.
  • Look for the “ABCDEs” of melanoma – Asymmetry, Border (irregular or poorly defined), Color (varied from one area to another), Diameter, or an Evolving mole (one that is changing or growing).  See photos and more information from the American Academy of Dermatology.

Preventing melanoma

  • If your older child or teenager tans – they must stop!
  • Avoid sun exposure during peak intensity, usually about 10am-4pm.
  • You and your children should wear sunscreen every day that you will be outside.  Here in Seattle, you can get a sunburn even when it is cloudy or raining!  Use an SPF of at least 30, and choose a sunscreen that provides UVA and UVB protection.
  • Melanoma can also develop in the eyes – sunglasses with UV protection help prevent this.
  • Babies younger than 6 months should be kept out of direct sunlight.  Dress them in lightweight long pants, long-sleeved shirts, and brimmed hats that protect their face and neck from sun exposure.  If adequate shade or clothing are not available, it’s OK to use a small amount of sunscreen on exposed areas.  Just remember to rub it in well and apply 20-30 minutes before sun exposure to be effective.
  • For older infants and children, brimmed hats, sunglasses with UV protection, and tightly-woven clothing provides the best protection against sun.  Apply sunscreen with at least SPF 30 to exposed areas 20-30 minutes before exposure, and every 2 hours while outside.  Reapply after swimming or sweating.
  • Some people choose to avoid sunscreens with the ingredient oxybenzone, which can have hormonal properties, in infants and children.
  • Set a good example for your kids by practicing sun safety yourself!

For more information, check out sunscreen/sunburn facts from the American Academy of Pediatrics.  Here’s to a fun and safe summer outdoors with your family!

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