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Skin cancer checks for kids: When to take them

Lisa Steinke, with Liz Fenton, is the co-author of the debut chick lit novel l'll Have Who She's Having and the popular Chick Lit blog chicklitisnotdead.com.

checking your child for skin cancer

If you have a family history of skin cancer, it's likely that your child needs to be checked as well. Read more about what experts say about skin cancer in children, tips for keeping an eye out for unusual skin markings and more.

Applying sunscreen to a little boyWhat type of sunscreen should you buy?

SPH, UV, UVA, UVB... Have your eyes ever glazed over as you've stood at the drugstore staring up at the shelf filled with dozens of sunscreen options? There are some simple things to look for on the sunscreen bottle.

"It's best to use a broad spectrum sunscreen, to cover UVA and UVB rays. SPF 30+ is a good start," says Dr. Hellman. "Certain brands carry sunscreens for young children, containing less chemicals. Physical sunscreens containing zinc, titanium oxide are also best."

Sunscreen isn't the only way to help prevent skin cancer

But it's important to note that there is more to prevention than just sunscreen. The time of day your child is outside and the clothes your children wear are also factors.

Dr. Urquhart points out that the most intense sun exposure is during the middle of the day — between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.

She suggests that you try to schedule outdoor activities outside of that time frame to decrease the potential sun damage for your children. She also advises that children wear protective clothing, such as long sleeves, sun hats, swim shirts and sunglasses.

What if there is a history of skin cancer in your family? What else should you do?

Dr. Woolery-Lloyd says that mole mapping is a good idea for kids with a history of skin cancer, especially if they have multiple atypical moles. “Mole mapping involves mapping moles with pictures so changes are easily identified at yearly follow-up visits,” she explains.

How often should you get your child checked by a doctor?

Dr. Urquhart says she recommends annual skin cancer screenings for children starting around puberty. She says that it can help children understand their skin as well as help reinforce the messages Mom and Dad are trying to get across — that sun protection is important. She does add that she will recommend skin cancer screenings at an earlier age if there is a strong family history or numerous moles at a young age. Dr. Asarch adds, "Children born with large pigmented birth marks should also be seen yearly."

Be aware of the myths

If you still believe your child may not be at risk for developing skin cancer, Dr. Asarch urges you to consider these myths:

  • Tanning or getting a base tan helps prevents skin cancers — False.
  • There is little risk of sunburning on cloudy days — False.
  • The sun is more intense at the hot summer beach than in the cool mountain elevations — False. Check the UV index for the area you live in to determine the risk.
  • My child is not at risk because he has dark skin — False. While it is true that skin cancer is less likely in darker pigmented skin, it is not risk-free. Sun protection is essential for all skin types, tones and pigmentations.

More about preventing skin cancer

Sunning it with your kids… without tanning
Protect your children with UV-blocking clothing
How to prevent children's sunburns

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