Can Young Kids Get Skin Cancer?

Melanoma rates in children are increasing but they tend to fair better than adults

(RxWiki News) Can young kids get skin cancer? You bet. In fact the disease is on the rise. So be sure to lather on that sunscreen from infancy!

A recent study looked at melanoma (the most serious form of skin cancer) patients under the age of 21.

While this cancer can be serious - even deadly - in children, researchers found that aggressive treatment and continued monitoring had good success rates.

"Protect kids with sunscreen."

Vernon K. Sondak, MD, chair of the Department of Cutaneous Oncology at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida, led the investigation.

Dr. Vernon said, “We really don’t know why young children are getting melanoma, although for older children the risk factors—fair skin, sun exposure and especially sunburns—are similar to those in adults.”

Dr. Vernon goes on to point out that melanoma behaves differently in young kids than it does in adults. Kids have higher rates of cancerous sentinel lymph nodes, which is not a good thing, but better rates of getting better too.

Also, diagnosing melanoma in a child can be tricky, as it’s hard to tell melanoma from an unusual mole in a child.

For the study, researchers looked at the cases of 126 melanoma patients under the age of 21 from 1986-2011.

Sentinel lymph nodes (SNL) are lymph nodes where melanoma spreading most likely began. Biopsy of SNL is often done to determine whether or not cancer cells are taking over the lymphatic system.

SNL biopsies were performed on 62 of the kids. Results found cancer tumors in 18 cases.

That is a 29 percent positive SNL rate for the kids compared to a typical 12 to 15 percent rate for adults.

Dr. Vernon said, “Children with melanoma have higher rates of metastases to sentinel lymph nodes than adults, but they tend to do very well with aggressive treatment.”

Researchers followed up with patients 5 years later and found a total of 27 recurrences of melanoma and 20 deaths.

Recurrence happened in 94 percent of kids who had cancer cells in the SNL compared to 60 percent of SNL negative patients.

The death rates were 19 percent higher in patients who had SNL positive biopsies compared to SNL negative biopsies.

Dr. Vernon said, “We found that patients with positive SNL had significantly thicker melanomas when compared with SNL negative patients.”

Children diagnosed with melanoma under the age of 12 were all alive and well at the time of follow-up.

Dr. Vernon recommended, “…long-term follow-up is necessary as these children become young adults. Most of all, our study should remind people how important it is to protect children from the sun and from sunburn, starting from birth.”

This study was published in August in Annals of Surgical Oncology.

No funding information was given and no conflicts of interest were found.

Review Date: 
September 13, 2012