Melanoma in Pediatric Patients

Lynsey Keep, RN
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Melanoma is not the most common form of skin cancer, however it is the most serious one, and melanoma in pediatric patients is one which is a rare occurrence yet one which is most certainly as harmful to the individual concerned.

Melanoma: An Enemy to Be Wary of

Melanoma is a malignant tumor of the skin. If detected and treated early melanoma can be almost 100 percent cured in most cases. If the melanoma is not recognized in good time it can spread to other parts of the body and in some cases can be fatal.

We are all at a degree of risk of developing melanoma of the skin, however the following risk factors need to be acknowledged:

  • Moles - Many people have moles recognized to be brown colored growths on the skin or 'beauty spots' as people often prefer to call them. There is also a type of mole known as dysplasic nevi but these are atypical.
  • Skin type/complexion - It is a commonly known fact that those with fairer skin and/or freckles (especially those with red hair) are more at risk of developing melanoma.
  • Sunburn - Those who have been affected by sunburn are at an increased risk. The risk rises the more times sunburn occurs and for those living in sunny and hot climates there is an automatically increased risk due to heightened exposure. It is believed that sunburn is even more damaging in children, therefore increasing the risk of melanoma in pediatric patients.
  • Sun beds - those who utilize sun beds to acquire a tan (and for some this is a year round 'hobby') are at equal risk of developing melanoma than those who tan through natural methods.
  • Family history - some families are 'melanoma-prone,' therefore if a mother, father, brother or sister experiences such problems it can be assumed that individuals close to them are deemed at greater risk.
  • Medical history - those who have already suffered a melanoma are at an increased risk of further episodes, but fortunately those who have been through the anguish of an event usually take additional precautions following this.

The symptoms of melanoma are often known as the A, B, C, D, Es of melanoma and these include:

  • A for symmetry - meaning that the two halves of the mole do not match.
  • B for border irregularity - the borders of the moles are irregular and undefined.
  • C is for altered color - additional to the common brownish-black a mole of beauty spot may appear a different color.
  • D is for diameter - the size of the mole has increased and is markedly bigger than an eraser on the end of a pencil.
  • E is for evolving - the mole has changed in general, including size, color and shape.

If these observations are adhered to and acted upon then people stand a good chance of receiving prompt and fully effective treatment to cure the melanoma. Unfortunately there is no precautionary screening or test which can be performed to identify melanoma therefore highlighting the crucial need to be responsible for acting on any changes.

Melanoma in Pediatric Patients: It Can Happen

The most effective method of avoiding melanoma in pediatric patients is by ensuring education about the risks is given to both children and their parents. Often is the case that people experience melanoma and other forms of skin cancer as a result of sheer naivety and lack of knowledge about taking steps to avoid such risks.

Research in the US has indicated that melanoma in pediatric patients is notably increasing particularly in those of adolescent age. Treatment for skin cancers and melanomas in pediatrics is performed based on successes of adult treatment and surgical removal of the melanoma is standard practice for children of all ages.

Adults have been advised for many years to check their skin regularly for unusual growths or discoloration to the skin, and in light of increases in pediatric presentation of the problem parents are being encouraged to actively perform regular checks on their young children or encourage older children to check themselves out.

Prevention is Better Than a Cure

Literature and information regarding pediatric melanoma and how best to avoid it is still limited due to the perception that melanoma's are less common in children, a perception that is very misleading.

Common sense precautions however can be taken by means of practical measures:

  • Sunscreen - when a child is likely to be exposed to the sun a suitable factor (at least SPF 15) must be applied 30 minutes before exposure. For babies the maximum SPF factor should be used.
  • Apply a generous amount - ensure when applying sunscreen that it is applied liberally to the skin to ensure maximum protection. There are various products aimed at children on the market that offer colored sun cream which allows moms to ensure the cream has been applied everywhere that is necessary. It is always best to apply too much rather than not enough.
  • Re-apply - two hourly as a minimum recommendation even if it is cloudy yet still hot, those rays can still infiltrate through cloud.
  • Protective clothing - make the most of the fun protective suits and hats available for children. Particularly when in the pool or on the beach the UV protective swimwear is an essential item twinned with adequate application of sun cream.
  • Hottest times - ensure children are kept indoors or at least in a shaded area during the hottest times of the day. Between 11 AM and 3 PM is the 'danger' time.

Unfortunately because melanoma in pediatric patients has in the past been viewed as a rare occurrence, parents are only now becoming aware of the dangers and increased prevalence of the problem. Taking responsibility for your own kids is paramount and if as a parent there is ever even the slightest cause for concern then it is crucial to seek the advice of an expert such as a pediatrician or dermatologist.

Melanoma in Pediatric Patients