Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S. In the past 30 years, more people have developed skin cancer than all other cancers combined. It can be easy to think that it’s not a deadly disease, but the truth is one person dies from a form of skin cancer called melanoma every hour, says the Skin Cancer Foundation.
It’s a trend that’s increasing in our kids, too. Pediatric melanoma grew by an average of two percent every year from 1973 to 2009. Ninety percent of the cases in kids happen between the ages of 10-19. In fact, just five sunburns as a kid increase the lifetime risk of developing melanoma by 80 percent. “If left untreated those cancer cells can spread to other parts of the body, too, infecting organs and other tissue,” says Ayman El-Sheikh, MD, medical director of the Comprehensive Care Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Dayton Children’s Hospital.
To highlight sun safety, Dayton Children’s has tips to protect your child’s sensitive skin.
Always wear sunscreen — always
A tan is often viewed as “healthy,” but it actually represents damage to skin cells. To protect a child’s delicate skin, kids always need sunscreen. Choose one with a sun protection factor (SPF) between 30 and 50 and that protects from both UVA and UVB rays. Cover a child’s skin liberally, making sure to get often-neglected areas like the back of the neck and the tops of the ears. Reapply every two hours, more often if a child has been swimming or sweating.
Use clothing as a barrier
Sunscreen can have a helper in the clothing you choose for your child. Hats or visors keep the sun off a child’s face. Swim shirts shield a child’s chest, back, shoulders and arms. Opt for tennis shoes over flip-flops to protect the tops of feet. Long sleeves and pants don’t have to be heavy or hot — look for airy fabrics that your child will want to put on, even when the temperature rises.
Check for skin damage often
“In up to 40 percent of melanoma cases in children, diagnosis and treatment is delayed,” says Dr. El-Sheikh. “The earlier any lesions are found and treated, the greater the success rate.” Check your child’s skin on a regular basis. Become familiar with any birthmarks, moles or blemishes so you can easily tell if there are any changes — such as size, texture, shape and color, or a blemish or sore that does not heal. See your doctor if you find anything that concerns you.
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This look at a children’s health or safety issue comes from Dayton Children’s Hospital. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.