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Skin Cancer in Children

Family Matters - Fall 2008

Skin Cancer in Children

When a child is eight years old, having never had a sunburn and no family history of skin cancer, the last thing a parent would expect to hear is that his or her child has melanoma.

Missy Fowlkes was in shock when doctors in Jackson, Mississippi told her that the small scaly place on her daughter Chloe’s arm was something they suspected to be melanoma.

“I noticed a place on her that just looked like an infected mosquito bite. It was raised, pink and scaly, not like a mole, so I assumed it would heal on its own,” says Missy. “When I noticed the place growing over the next few weeks, I took her to the pediatrician to have it checked out.”

Most children’s hospitals do not treat melanoma, so Chloe and her family came to the Children’s Cancer Hospital at M. D. Anderson. Despite undergoing treatment, Chloe spends the majority of her time in Mississippi and continues to fill up her weeks with fun activities. 

Sun Safety for Your Family

Skin cancer is rare in young children, but it is the most common cancer among adults, and incidence is on the rise in the United States. Many doctors believe childhood melanoma could have more to do with genetics than sun exposure when it occurs in children under the age of 10. However, practicing sun safety at an early age can help decrease the risk of skin cancer later in adulthood.

Dennis Hughes, M.D., Ph.D., is a pediatric oncologist who treats melanoma patients at the Children’s Cancer Hospital. His experience as a father of two girls has taught him some tricks to promote sun safety to his family.

“First of all, I had to teach my daughters that putting on sunscreen is the first layer of putting on their play clothes before they go outside to have fun,” says Hughes. “I also realized that they were more apt to wear a hat if I was wearing one. Just like a lot of things, it’s important for us parents to set an example for our kids to follow.”

Certain treatments and medications make cancer patients more sensitive to the sun, which makes sun safety essential. Experts from M. D. Anderson recommend using the following tools to prevent sun damage:

  • Sunscreen with SPF 30 or greater, reapplying often
  • Lip balm with SPF 30
  • Hat with a brim or cap
  • Long-sleeved shirt (preferably sun protective clothing)
  • Sunglasses with UV protection

They also recommend limiting outdoor activities during the hottest part of the day, usually between 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. To learn more, please visit our childhood melanoma page.

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