Skin cancer checks for kids: When to take them
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.
We can all agree that summer is fun — the days are filled with trips to the beach, the pool and your own backyard. Your kids are often clad in nothing more than a bathing suit. But are they also wearing a hat? Sunglasses? Sunscreen? What time of day are they playing in the sun?
With sun comes a lot of fun, but also comes the risk of skin cancer. But those risks can be minimized by taking simple steps to protect your children.
Mind your A-B-C-D- and Es
So where should you start? Nemours KidsHealth.org suggests following the ABCDE rule. If you answer "Yes" to any of the following questions, you should consult with a dermatologist.
- Asymmetry - If you were to cut the mole down the middle, would the left and the right sides look different?
- Border - Are the edges blurry and undefined?
- Color - Does the mole look darker or lighter than usual?
- Diameter - Is the mole larger than the eraser on a pencil top?
- Elevation - Does it have a raised surface?
When looking for irregular moles, be sure to check your child's entire body — not just the obvious spots. Dr. Heather Woolery-Lloyd, a Miami-based board certified dermatologist, urges parents to also check the scalp, feet and toes.
In addition to a new mole that looks different or stands out from all the other moles on the skin, you're also looking for moles that bleed and/or don't heal. "Signs and symptoms of skin cancer are spots that bleed easily without trauma and spots that don't want to heal," says Dr. Jean Urquhart, a board certified dermatologist and dermatopathologist at Mountain Dermatology Specialists in Colorado.
How early do you start checking?
When you've just had a baby, the last thing you want to think about is anything bad happening to your child, especially cancer. But that's when your skin cancer checks should begin. "From birth on," says Dr. Judith Hellman, associate clinical professor of dermatology and board certified dermatologist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. "Some children are born with congenital moles and some of those can pose a risk of skin cancer. It's good to have a dermatologist examine any growths as early as one finds them."
So how likely is it that you could discover skin cancer in your baby or very young child? Dr. Urquhart says that skin cancer is rare before kids go through puberty. The most common skin cancers, such as basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, are rare because they usually occur after years of sun damage.
Dr. Urquhart adds, "Melanoma is also very rare in prepubertal children. Risks for melanoma are linked to family history, history of multiple sunburns as a child, history of precancerous moles, fair skin and greater than 50 moles."
How can you help prevent your child from getting skin cancer?
Dr. Woolery-Lloyd says that sunscreen can make a huge difference in your child’s chances of developing skin cancer. "One study showed that children who went on sunny vacations had a greater number of atypical moles," she explains.
And what about newborns and infants? Dr. Hellman shares that your baby should avoid the sun during the first six months, after which you can begin applying sunscreen, but the best prevention is for kids to stay in the shade. "Since most skin cancers are a result of cumulative sun damage, the less exposure to sun damage and burns, the better the long-term preventive value," she says.
Dr. Richard Asarch, a board certified Denver dermatologist, also reminds parents that sunscreen needs to be applied daily and not just on sunny days. "Even on a cloudy day, up to 80 percent of the sun’s UV rays can pass through the clouds. Apply an SPF of at least 30 15-20 minutes before sun exposure to allow a protective film to develop." Asarch continues, "Re-apply every two hours or after excessive sweating or swimming. Use enough sunscreen to generously coat all exposed skin."
Beverly Hills cosmetic dentist Dr. Arthur Glosman recommends that you pay attention to your child’s lips as well by applying lip balms with an SPF of 30 or higher. He explains that it’s a vulnerable area that can be burned easily and an area where skin cancer can indeed strike. "Make sure your dentist is performing a lip exam as part of their routine dental visit — and if you notice any abnormalities either on the lip, around the lips, or inside the mouth of your child, see a doctor right away," he says.