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Melanoma is a skin cancer. It begins in the melanocytes, which are the cells that give skin its pigment, or color. Although melanoma is rare in children, it is the most common pediatric skin cancer.
Melanoma is occasionally found in newborns. Melanoma becomes more common as children get older, and it accounts for about 8% of cancers in teens.
Pediatric melanoma is becoming more common, especially in teenage girls. Research shows that sun exposure and tanning beds increase risk.
Childhood melanoma risk factors
Although the exact cause of pediatric melanoma is not known, certain things make it more likely that a child will develop this type of cancer. These risk factors include:
- Immunosuppression, immunodeficiency
- History of retinoblastoma
- Certain inherited disorders including xeroderma pigmentosum and Werner syndrome
- Giant melanocytic nevi
- Prolonged exposure to sunlight. This is less of a factor in children than adults.
- Red or blond hair, blue eyes, freckles
- Tendency to sunburn and not tan
- Large number of moles
- Family history of melanoma
Previous studies have shown that children who are treated for melanoma are at an increased risk of it returning later in life.
Not everyone with risk factors gets melanoma. However, if your child has risk factors, you should discuss them with the doctor.
Learn more about childhood melanoma:
Some cases of melanoma can be passed down from one generation to the next. Genetic counseling may be right for you. Learn more about the risk to you and your family on our genetic testing page.
Behavioral and lifestyle changes can help prevent melanoma. Visit our prevention and screening section to learn how to manage your risk.
Some people have an elevated risk of developing melanoma. Review the skin cancer screening guidelines to see if you need to be tested.
Why choose MD Anderson for your childhood melanoma treatment?
Each child is unique; each case of pediatric melanoma is unique. That’s why MD Anderson’s Children’s Cancer Center takes an approach that focuses intensely on your child and your child’s care. We customize each child’s treatment plan on their specific cancer, drawing from an array of the most-advanced treatments and technologies.
From the day your child arrives at Children’s Cancer Hospital, a team of highly specialized physicians and other health care professionals provides individualized care. This group follows your child closely throughout treatment, ensuring a personalized approach. They communicate frequently with each other and with your family.
This team includes some of the nation’s top experts in oncology, oncology surgery, radiation therapy, pathology and other disciplines. They are supported by specialized nurses, therapists and others to ensure your child receives the best possible care.
Pediatric melanoma expertise
Melanoma is rare in children and can be challenging to diagnose because it can present differently than in adults. Though melanoma may grow faster in children, they sometimes fare better than adults with the disease. If melanoma is caught early, most children do not require treatment beyond surgery.
Because melanoma in children is rare, it’s important to take your child to a comprehensive cancer center with a specialized program that treats pediatric melanoma. As part of one of the nation’s most active cancer centers, we see a larger number of pediatric melanoma patients than almost any facility in the United States. This gives us a remarkable level of experience and expertise.
Everything for children
Children’s Cancer Hospital is focused on children, with a full range of services and amenities that help make the child and family’s experience as comfortable as possible. We go beyond medical care to deliver a comprehensive experience that treats the whole child.
And at Children’s Cancer Hospital, you’re surrounded by the strength of one of the nation’s top cancer centers.
If your child has been diagnosed with melanoma, we’re here to help. Call 877-632-6789 to make an appointment or request an appointment online.
I am so grateful for all the help and care I received from my family and everyone at MD Anderson. I couldn’t have beaten cancer without those people in my life.
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Prevention & Screening
Many cancers can be prevented with lifestyle changes and regular
Rebekah Thibodeaux didn’t expect to see her daughter 13-year-old daughter, Lane, back in the saddle so soon. When Lane was diagnosed with melanoma, she was scared and unsure of what to expect. Lane was, too. She was anxious about her future and upcoming rodeo competitions.
For the Thibodeauxes, rodeos are a family affair. Since they were toddlers, Lane and her sisters have been competing in events like barrel racing, pole bending, and flags. Breakaway Roping has become their favorite.
Fortunately, her care team was able to help Lane overcome melanoma and get back to riding and roping without missing a single competition. Not only did she get to compete in the Texas Junior High Rodeo State Finals, she walked away the All-Around Champion Cowgirl. She also qualified for the national competition in breakaway roping.
Spotting childhood melanoma
Rebekah wasn’t sure when the mole first appeared on Lane’s neck. She was certain it had been there for years. But suddenly, it seemed to be growing in size. Lane’s sisters noticed it, too. When Rebekah looked closer and ran her fingers over it, a bit of it flaked off. She knew something wasn’t right and scheduled Lane a doctor’s appointment in Lafayette, Louisiana.
Lane had never had a skin screening before. The doctor examined her, noting the ABCDEs of melanoma. Indeed, the one on her neck was an outlier. It just didn’t match the others. The dermatologist conducted a shave biopsy.
A few days later, the dermatologist called Rebekah with the results: Lane had melanoma.
Coming to MD Anderson for childhood melanoma treatment
Melanoma is rare in children and teens. Between 300 and 400 childhood melanoma cases are diagnosed in the U.S. each year. And because it’s so rare, the disease is often found in the later stages, when it’s more difficult to treat.
The dermatologist recommended they travel to Baton Rouge, New Orleans or Houston for treatment. Rebekah had always heard that MD Anderson was the best, so they decided to make the four-hour trip to Houston for Lane’s first appointment a month later.
At MD Anderson, Lane and Rebekah met with pediatric oncologist Cynthia Herzog, M.D., and her care team. Right away, Lane and Rebekah felt comfortable.
“Their optimism was very encouraging,” Rebekah says.
Herzog explained that Lane would need surgery and introduced them to pediatric surgeon Mary Austin, M.D., and head and neck cancer surgeon Ryan Goepfert, M.D. They explained that they would need to remove the cancer, as well as the surrounding lymph nodes, to determine how far the cancer had spread and if Lane would need additional treatment. Both Lane and Rebekah were nervous. Goepfert assured them, that as a parent himself, he knew the surgery would be far tougher on Rebekah.
On April 7, Lane returned to MD Anderson for surgery. While Lane was under anesthesia, Geopfert, Austin and their team removed the cancerous spot on Lane’s neck. Next, they injected a blue dye called a radiotracer around the site of the cancer. The radiotracer flowed through the lymphatic system, a network of lymph channels and nodes. This allows surgeons to see how the lymph nodes drain from the tumor. If the cancer had spread, this is the way it would have advanced. From there, Lane’s surgical team identified and removed what’s called a sentinel lymph node, the first lymph node the cancer would spread to. The lymph node would later be studied in a lab by a pathology team. If the lymph node showed signs of cancer, Lane would need additional treatment, such as immunotherapy.
Lane was discharged from the hospital that same day. Right away, she started to heal from the surgery. It never impacted her mobility, and she didn’t have much pain.
On April 14, Rebekah received good news. The cancer hadn’t spread, and Lane was cancer-free. Less than a week later, they returned to Houston for a follow-up appointment. Lane was healing quickly and could compete in rodeos. Two weeks later, she did just that. She even won a prize in breakaway roping later that month.
Through it all, the Thibodeaux family remained grateful to the friends and family who prayed for them. One group in particular called themselves “Team Lane.” Knowing friends and family were thinking of them brought the Thibodeauxs peace, no matter what they faced.
Life after melanoma surgery
Lane returns to MD Anderson for her follow-up appointments and skin exams every three months. Rebekah promises that her other daughters will also start undergoing skin screenings as well. Bottles of sunscreen can be found in just about every corner of the house.
Rebekah wants other parents to know the importance of skin cancer prevention. And to the parents of kids facing a diagnosis, she wants them to know that MD Anderson offers treatment options that will help their kids get back to living their lives.
“There’s hope in all of it," she says. "And MD Anderson gives you just that!”
Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.