By Ana Duarte, MD
With warm weather and constant sunshine throughout most of the year, families in South Florida are no strangers to the dangers of too much sun exposure. Still, melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer is on the rise, particularly among children and young adults.
There are various types of skin cancers, most of which don’t become life threatening because they don’t spread from the skin. Unfortunately, melanoma is different. It is the most dangerous of skin cancers, and if not caught early, it can spread from the skin to other organs, often ending with deadly results.
Melanoma was once thought to be a result of many, many years of excessive sun exposure. But over the last decade or so, there has been increasing number of cases of melanoma in teenagers, especially in females. Studies show teen girls are more likely to spend time tanning in the sun or under artificial lamps, which becomes extremely dangerous when they don’t apply sun block.
Rising cases of melanoma are definitely a concern. So often, children don’t properly protect themselves against the sun because they believe cancer only affects older adults, but this early exposure to sun damage can be ultimately be life threatening, even at a young age. That’s why it’s so important for parents to remind their children of the importance of wearing sunscreen, especially if they are very fair skinned, have any large moles or a family history of cancer.
When to See a Doctor
Though melanoma can be life threatening, the good news is it is a curable cancer if caught early. Teach your children to be conscious about abnormalities on their skin, and call your doctor if you or your child notice:
- A bump or mole on the skin that wasn’t there before.
- A mole that has changed in size, shape, elevation or color.
- A bump or mole that hurts or itches.
Dr. Duarte recommends that children with light-colored eyes and fair skin, particularly those with a family history of skin cancer or significant early exposure to the sun, be seen annually by a dermatologist so that moles can be monitored over time.