By Megan Boyle, Editorial Director
Melanoma, characterized by mole-like cancerous growths, is on the rise in the U.S. The most serious form of skin cancer, it’s particularly rising among women and seniors. But what about kids?
While melanoma is significantly less common among children, five to six kids in every million develop melanoma in their youth. It takes just a few blistering sunburns to double the chance a child will develop skin cancer in her lifetime.
But while studies in years past suggested the rate of melanoma in children was also rising, the newest research says the opposite. Last summer, researchers at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and its affiliated medical center reported in the Journal of Pediatrics that the rate of melanoma diagnoses in children and adolescents is actually declining.
Researchers analyzed data from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results registry of the National Cancer Institute on more than 1,100 people under 20 years old who were diagnosed with melanoma between 2000 and 2010. Melanoma rates dropped by nearly 12 percent from 2004 to 2010, with the largest decline among teens and boys.
The researchers can’t pinpoint one particular cause of this trend, but growing awareness about sun safety may be responsible. Research indicates that teenagers are taking more steps, such as applying sunscreen, to protect themselves from damaging sun exposure. The authors also suggest that parents are becoming more proactive in safeguarding their young children.
They speculate that a negative trend may contribute to the decline as well: children, particularly boys, are spending more time playing video games and watching TV. That’s nothing to celebrate, as playing indoors may mean less harmful sun exposure, but also less exercise and other physical activity.
Whatever the cause, we hope the rates of pediatric melanoma keep dropping. The National Cancer Institute estimates more than 75,000 cases of adult melanoma in the U.S. this year. A lower risk of pediatric melanoma could mean fewer diagnoses when these children reach adulthood.
We encourage parents to continue to take healthy steps to protect their children from harmful sun exposure. Here are some helpful tips for the whole family:
Wear protective clothing such as hats, visors, dark sunglasses, long sleeves and pants to block harmful UV rays.
Stay in the shade
While outdoors, seek shelter under overhangs, canopies, trees and awnings. Stroller hoods and umbrellas offer extra protection for little ones. Keep infants under six months out of direct sun.
Look for sunscreen lotions – not spray or sticks – with zinc or titanium as the active ingredients (avoid oxybenzone or retinyl A). Apply liberally and reapply frequently, especially when swimming, sweating or playing in water.
Watch the clock
Harmful UV rays peak midday, so schedule errands and playtime during morning or late afternoon.
Be safe on the go
Pack diaper bags, purses and backpacks with sun safety essentials such as hats and sunscreen. Keep extra at your school, office or in the car.
To learn more about how to stay safe in the sun, visit Healthy Child Healthy World’s Sun Safety Guide for Children.