By Steve Blanchard - September 16, 2019
While it’s still considered rare, pediatric melanoma is on the rise. Each year, about 500 children in the United States are diagnosed with the disease, according to the National Cancer Institute. That’s why it’s important for parents to routinely check their children for signs of melanoma.
According to Dr. Lucia Seminario-Vidal, a board-certified dermatologist at Moffitt Cancer Center, parents should pay attention to their children’s skin for abnormalities and remember that melanoma sometimes looks different on children than adults.
“Children’s melanomas bleed or may itch a lot,” Seminario-Vidal said. “The color of children’s melanoma can also be different than an adult’s. Red, pink and purple spots or growths could be reasons for concern, along with the typical colors of brown or black.”
It’s also important to remember that not all melanomas appear in areas that are easily seen. Make it a routine to look in your child’s hair or under fingernails.
“The shape of a mole is something else to pay attention to,” Seminario-Vidal said. “Moles and freckles that change over time are concerning and should be checked out immediately by a dermatologist.”
That’s exactly what Kandice Helms did when she noticed changes with a mole behind her son Jackson’s ear. She noticed that the mole had grown darker and larger.
A biopsy at the dermatologist’s office confirmed it was melanoma. He was scheduled to see Dr. Vernon Sondak, chair of Moffitt’s Department of Cutaneous Oncology, the next day. The shallow mole was completely removed and no further treatment was needed. But Jackson would have to be followed regularly, every six months with his dermatologist and annually at Moffitt.
Dr. Jane Messina, a pathologist at Moffitt who focuses on melanoma, said melanoma in children isn’t something many parents expect to find. And while it is rare, it does exist in children.
“Pediatric melanoma isn’t the most common thing you see,” Messina said. “But we want to educate patients and their families, doctors in the community and melanoma specialists. The most important thing for these families to remember is that this is diagnosable, treatable and beatable.”
As with any cancer, Messina explained that early detection is the key to beating melanoma in children and teens. That’s likely what saved Jackson.
“He was so young when he was diagnosed, and you just don’t expect it,” Kandice Helms said. “We’re just so thankful that Jackson’s melanoma was caught so early.”
FREE SKIN SCREENINGS
Moffitt's Mole Patrol® skin cancer screening program travels to venues around Florida to offer FREE skin cancer screenings and cancer education to the public. For a list of our upcoming screening events, visit Moffitt.org/MolePatrol.