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.
According to the National Cancer Institute, about 500 children are diagnosed with pediatric melanoma each year. This accounts for about 2% of childhood cancers.
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.
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.