Childhood skin cancer on the rise

Teens and children as young as 10-years-old being diagnosed

Published On: Sep 05 2012 05:16:34 PM CDT
HOUSTON -

Most people don't associate skin cancer with kids, but now doctors are diagnosing more and more children with the condition.

They're finding basal cell carcinoma and melanoma in teens and children as young as 10 years old.

Doctors aren't sure why this is suddenly cropping up, but they believe genetics and ultraviolet light exposure are playing a big role.

"It's not something you think that you're going to be told that your 11-year-old has beginning stage melanoma," mother Melissa Cummins said. "I was sick. I actually dropped down and couldn't talk on the phone."
While Cummins' family spends a lot of time outdoors, she said she was vigilant about skin protection.

"They were not outside without hats, bonnets as babies, sunscreen always gets put on to the point that my boys fuss at me," she said.

Doctors agree that skin cancer at such a young age is still uncommon, but the numbers are increasing at an alarming rate.

Dr. Bernard Cohen is a pediatric dermatologist. He said 10 years ago he never saw skin cancer in a child, but now he's seeing a few cases a year.

"Commensurate with the adult skin cancer epidemic, children are not that far behind. Clearly, people are spending more time out in the sun and getting sun exposure and kids are getting a ton of sun exposure early in life," Cohen said.

It's not just melanoma on the rise. Cohen said, he's seeing more incidents of less serious basal and squamous cell carcinoma cancers as well.

For example, the chance of recurrence after a melanoma can be as high as 50 percent, but Cohen worries that in a child who has years and years left to live, that chance could be much higher.

Dermatologists said pediatricians should be doing skin checks as part of a child's overall check-up. The earlier doctors can find skin cancer, the more successful the treatment.