Children at Greater Risk of Invasive Melanoma

Metastatic melanoma more common in children than adults

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Melanoma, when caught early, is one of the more curable cancers. Once it starts to spread, though, the outlook is more serious. Sadly, children seem to be more vulnerable to the most serious form of this deadly skin cancer.

A recent study by Johns Hopkins Children's Center has discovered that melanoma behaves differently in children than it does in adults. Some youngsters are more prone than adults to have an invasive form of the disease.

"Apply sunscreen on your infants and children; discuss the dangers of indoor tanning with your teens."

The research team analyzed five years of records that followed a total of 717 children and 1,368 young adults (20-24 years old) diagnosed with melanoma.

Researchers compared results from lymph node biopsies and found:

  • Children were more likely than adults to have the disease spread to the lymph nodes closest to the tumor (sentinel lymph nodes).
  • 25 percent or children and 14 percent of adults had sentinel lymph node involvement.
  • Tumor thickness also predicted melanoma metastases (spread).
  • Children were six times more likely than young adults to have metastases with the same thickness tumors.
  • Children under the age of 10 were at highest risk for spread beyond the original site and beyond compared to older children and young adults.

Senior investigator John Strouse, M.D., Ph.D., a pediatric hematologist and oncologist at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center, said in a news release announcing study results, "Our finding is a powerful reminder that there's much about pediatric melanoma that we don't understand and that, just as is the case with other diseases, children are not small adults, but differ markedly in their response to disease."

Melanoma is relatively rare in children. Youngsters account for only about four percent of the 70,000 new melanoma diagnoses in the United States every year.

Experts say these trends are changing, though, and lack of sun protection, indoor tanning and repeat sun burns continue to be the biggest avoidable risk factors.

Findings from this study were published in the October 5, 2011 issue of the journal Cancer.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 6, 2011
Last Updated:
October 7, 2011