Most 11-year-old children don’t know how to pronounce words like cutaneous, ocular or amelanotic, let alone know the difference between these types of melanomas, but it comes second nature for Allison Rupp. Doctors diagnosed her with melanoma at the age of 10 and she has made it her mission to educate others about melanoma.
In 2016, Allison went to the doctor to have a wart frozen off and the physician discovered a mole on her right shoulder. They biopsied the mole and it came back positive for melanoma.
Though it only accounts for 3 percent of all pediatric cancers, melanoma is on the rise in children, teens and young adults.
Like adult melanoma, most cases of pediatric melanoma develop from a combination of genetic predisposition and ultraviolet exposure along with other unknown triggers. Tanning beds have been implicated as a major cause of the rise in incidence of melanoma in children and young adults. Children with fair skin, light hair and freckles tend to have a higher risk, but a surprisingly high number of children have darker skin and wouldn’t typically have been thought of as "high risk" for skin cancer development. Symptoms of pediatric melanoma include:
- A mole that changes, grows or doesn’t go away
- An odd-shaped or large mole
- A pale-colored or red bump
- A mole or bump that itches or bleeds
Allison underwent surgery to remove the melanoma and is doing well. She and about two dozen other pediatric melanoma patients receive a follow up check up on the first Tuesday in August as part of Moffitt Cancer Center’s Pediatric Melanoma Clinic Day.
Allison looks forward to the annual event because it gives her a chance to meet other children who also had melanoma. She says sometimes she feels like she’s the only person to have it as a child and it’s good to see she’s not alone.
Dr. Vernon Sondak heads up the pediatric melanoma clinic, which includes children’s activities, treats and balloon animals. He says it’s important to make the event something pediatric patients look forward to and not something they dread.
As for Allison, she always wears sunscreen, hats and long-sleeved shirts while outdoors. She even wrote a speech about the importance of protecting yourself from the sun and presented it to her fifth-grade class. She hopes her story will educate others about melanoma.
Diagnosing melanoma in children can be difficult and it is usually necessary to consult with an expert pathologist to make sure that it is in fact melanoma. At Moffitt, a variety of additional tests and procedures are often conducted to establish the diagnosis with the highest possible degree of certainty and treat it the most effectively. Fortunately, the prognosis for most children with melanoma is quite favorable, and progress made in treating adult melanoma is helping improve outcomes for children, as well.
If you’d like to learn more about melanoma, contact Moffitt Cancer Center to request an appointment with an oncologist by calling 1-888-663-3488 or completing a new patient registration form online. We do not require referrals.