With the family beach vacation right around the corner, keeping children’s skin safe under the hot, summer sun should be top of mind for every parent.
Recently, doctors at Nationwide Children’s Hospital have seen an increase in the incidence of skin cancer cases among children ages 5-16-years-old, and particularly among teenagers. In fact, melanoma – cancer of the skin’s pigment elements – is now responsible for approximately one out of 10 cancer cases in adolescents ages 15-19-years-old.
“Increased use of tanning beds and sun exposure is likely one of the major causes in the increased melanoma incidence in teenagers,” said Jennifer Aldrink, MD, a pediatric surgeon at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “However, there are a host of other factors that we do not fully understand yet that also may contribute. The bottom line is sun exposure dramatically increases risk of skin-related cancers, particularly melanoma in children and teenagers.”
While melanoma is a sun-based skin cancer, doctors say it is difficult to confirm with certainty that exposure to sun is the only cause in children. Some claim there is not enough cumulative sun-exposure in children and teenagers to account for increased cases of melanoma.
“There is much about the immunology of melanoma that we still do not fully understand,” explained Mark Ranalli, MD, pediatric oncologist in Hematology/Oncology and Blood & Marrow Transplantation at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “How our immune system responds to these cancer cells and the manner in which our skin cells respond to excessive sun exposure may play an even more important role in childhood melanoma that we currently are able to explain.”
Drs. Aldrink and Ranalli, both faculty members at The Ohio State University College of Medicine, say parents can start to educate their children at a very young age about the importance of sunscreen and applying it at all times when children are out in the sun.
“Melanoma is the most common cancer encountered by women in their late 20’s,” said Dr. Ranalli. “Good skin protection practices at a young age may reduce the chances of developing melanoma in adulthood.”
-Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with UVA and UVB coverage. In general, an SPF of at least 30 is preferred but check the ingredient list. The best sunscreens have one of the following three ingredients – avobenzone, titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.
-Apply sunscreen to all exposed skin 30 minutes before sun exposure and every two hours thereafter while in the sun. Also, remember to reapply after leaving the water and toweling dry.
-Just because it’s a cloudy day, still apply sunscreen just as you would on a clear, sunny day.
-Seek the shade as much as possible. Keep the kids under a beach umbrella when taking a break from the ocean, playing in the sand or taking a nap.
-Use sun-protective clothing. Select swimwear such as rashguard shirts with long sleeves to give extra protection. A wide-brimmed hat or a hat with flaps that covers the back of the neck gives more coverage than a typical baseball cap.
-Try to avoid peak hours of sun exposure (10 a.m. – 2 p.m.). Choose activities where children can be in the shade or inside at these times. Hit the beach or outdoor pool either early or late in the day when the sun is less intense.
-Wear sun glasses to help protect eyes from damaging UV rays.
-Even long after the family vacation, watch for moles or freckles that are changing in character over a short period of time – color, size changes, border becomes irregular, etc.