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Invasive Melanoma May Be More Likely in Children Than Adults

Posted: October 12, 2011

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"Our finding is a powerful reminder that there's much about pediatric melanoma that we don't understand and that, just as is the case with other diseases, children are not small adults, but differ markedly in their response to disease," says senior investigator John Strouse, MD, PhD, a pediatric hematologist and oncologist at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center.

The National Cancer Institute predicts more than 70,000 new diagnoses of melanoma and nearly 8,800 deaths in the United States in 2011 alone. Because melanoma remains relatively rare in children -- less than 4% of cases occur in pediatric patients -- both diagnosis and treatment can be dangerously delayed in this group, experts say.

Studies, however, have shown growing incidence of melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancer in children and young adults, experts say, and unprotected sun exposure, indoor tanning and repeated sun burns, especially during childhood, are some of the main drivers behind this trend.

"I advise parents to use sunscreen religiously on infants and children during outdoor activities year-round," says Bernard Cohen, MD, director of pediatric dermatology at Johns Hopkins Children's Center. Cohen was not part of the current study.

Teens are another high-risk group, Cohen says, and pediatricians and parents should discuss with them the dangers of indoor tanning.