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Kristine Fellizar
April 30, 2018 10:23 am

As you may know, developing healthy sun protection habits when you’re young can only benefit you when you’re an adult. After all, when you’ve trained yourself to slather on sunscreen before you enjoy some time out in the sun, it’s going to become second nature to you. You never know how much developing that simple habit could pay off in the long run. But now, a new report by the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital says being mindful of sun protection when you’re young won’t only benefit you later on in life. Because melanoma can occur in kids, too. 

You don’t often hear about kids developing skin cancer. But as Dr. Alberto Pappo, director of the Solid Tumor Division at St, Jude Children’s Research Hospital, says, extreme sun exposure can also contribute to melanoma in children and adolescents.

“Don’t assume children cannot get skin cancer because of their age. Unlike other cancers, the conventional melanoma that we see mostly in adolescents behaves the same as it does in adults. And although rare, melanoma is the most common type of skin cancer in younger patients and affects mostly teenagers,” Dr. Pappo said in a release.  “Children are not immune from extreme sun damage and parents should start sun protection early and make it a habit for life.”

According to St. Jude, over 76,000 new cases of melanoma are diagnosed in the United States each year. That makes it the least common form of skin cancer overall. At the same time, however, melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer due to its ability to spread into other parts of the body. 

It’s no surprise that the most common cause of melanoma is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. People with darker skin, who have more melanin (which helps protect the skin from UV damage), are less likely to develop it. However, those who have less melanin, and thus tend to get sunburned pretty easily, are more likely to develop it. That’s why, according to St. Jude research, “people of Caucasian descent” develop melanoma five times more often than Hispanics, and 20 times more often than African Americans.

Doctors will typically diagnose melanoma in adults by looking at changes in moles. In children, it’s a little different. Sometimes they’ll also find pale or red bumps that itch or bleed, in addition to any odd-shaped moles. 

The good news is, melanoma is “highly curable” once found and treated early. So be sure to check your skin for any unusual changes as often as you can. For the kids in your life, do the same. Most importantly, make sure that everyone always uses sunscreen. 

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