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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
Anthony Ivey was just 10 years old when he was diagnosed with pediatric melanoma. While playing baseball in 2012, he’d taken a hit to the left elbow. That made him take a closer look at a flat brown lesion he’d had there for several years.
Anthony had never paid much attention to it before, but when he showed the spot to his mother, she began to monitor it. Alarmed by how quickly it was growing, she took Anthony to a local dermatologist. The doctor performed a punch biopsy.
She told Anthony it was a nevus (a usually harmless mole or birthmark), but a few weeks later, it began to grow back through the scar.
“I wasn’t scared of the mole being cancer,” Anthony says. “I just didn’t like the (lidocaine) shots they used to numb the area when they removed it, because those hurt really bad.”
Still, Anthony returned to the dermatologist, who removed a larger section of his elbow skin for biopsy. When that proved inconclusive, the doctor referred Anthony to Cynthia Herzog, M.D., at MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital.
That’s when they got a definitive pediatric melanoma diagnosis. “Dr. Herzog told me that I would need surgery and possibly other treatments,” Anthony says.
Treatment at MD Anderson begins
Anthony had his first surgery at MD Anderson that March. He underwent a second surgery a few weeks later to remove several lymph nodes from his arm. He also began receiving interferon intravenously for four weeks. He continued to receive that drug at home by injection for another 48 weeks.
“I went through a lot that year,” Anthony says. “I lost a lot of weight and some of my hair. And I got real tired really fast. I had no appetite, and I got a fever a lot and my body hurt. But I still went to school and did my very best.”
Anthony finally completed his pediatric melanoma treatment in 2013, and has shown no evidence of disease since then. Even a new lesion that appeared on his upper arm last November tested negative for melanoma.
“God blessed me,” he says.
Making a play to raise pediatric melanoma awareness
Now, Anthony is back to enjoying his life. He still plays both baseball and football and insists the surgeries have not limited him in any way. “I can play any sport,” he says.
The high school freshman also uses sunscreen regularly and encourages his friends to do the same. This fall, he’ll be doing his part to raise melanoma awareness by participating in the Aim for the Cure Melanoma Walk in Houston on Saturday, Sept. 17.
His hope is that by participating in the Aim for the Cure event, he will bring attention to melanoma and the importance of regular mole checks for people of all ages.
As he says, “This is a part of my life now, and I want people to know it can happen to kids.”
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