Sunscreen may already be a family staple for a trip to the beach or an afternoon by the pool. But protecting your child from skin cancer requires more than a dab of sun defense. A recent study found that melanoma-the deadliest type of skin cancer-is becoming more common in children. Teaching your child proper sun safety early can prevent skin cancer for a lifetime.
Your skin has different layers of cells, each with its own job to do. Melanoma attacks cells called melanocytes. These cells have a very specific task: They produce melanin-a pigment that turns your skin brown. Melanin helps shield your skin's deepest layers from harmful ultraviolet radiation (UVR).
Too much UVR from the sun or artificial sources like tanning beds can cause melanoma. Compared with other types of skin cancer, melanoma is more likely to spread throughout the body. That can make it more difficult to treat.
Melanoma is rare in children. But a recent study in the journal Pediatrics documented a 2 percent annual rise in melanoma cases in children since 1973. Using a national cancer database, researchers found that girls-particularly those ages 15 to 19-were more likely than boys to develop melanoma. In girls, the disease often targets the hips and legs. In boys, it favors the face or trunk.
When your child is outside during the day, his or her skin is constantly bombarded by UVR. To prevent all types of skin cancer, you need to be just as persistent. Follow and teach these sun-safety steps to your child:
Always wear sunscreen-no matter the season or the reason. The higher a sunscreen's SPF-or sun protection factor-the longer it will protect your child's skin from burning. Look for broad-spectrum brands. They work against all types of UVR, including UVA and UVB. Apply generously and frequently.
Limit your child's time in the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., if possible. That's when UVR is strongest.
Dress your child in lighter-colored, more tightly woven fabrics. They better reflect UVR. A wide-brimmed hat can protect the face.
Discourage tanning, including the use of indoor tanning beds. Some states have limited children's access to tanning beds. But many adolescents-primarily girls-still use them. Research has shown that they can increase your child's risk for skin cancer.
Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.
Practicing proper sun safety isn't complete without a regular self skin-exam. Teach your child to check his or her skin often for any changes. Be on the lookout for moles that change shape, size, color, or texture. Here's how to do a self skin-exam:
Stand in front of a full-length mirror in a well-lighted room. Examine the front and back sides of your body. With arms up, scan the left and right sides, too.
Use a hand-held mirror to check hard-to-see areas, such as your elbows, the backs of your legs, your upper back, and your buttocks.
Be sure to look at the soles of your feet, the skin between toes, and your palms. Part hair to inspect your scalp.
Watch this video for more details about melanoma.
American Cancer Society - Skin Cancer
National Cancer Institute - What You Need to Know About Melanoma and Other Skin Cancers