Melanoma Is on the Rise in Children

Classic beach picture

There are few sights cuter than a toddler waddling her way along the beach.

There are few sights sadder than a toddler with a raging sunburn, particularly to the eyes of a dermatologist. That’s because we know how damaging even one sunburn can be to a child. In fact, just one blistering sunburn in childhood will more than double a person’s chances of developing melanoma later in life. 

An infant’s skin has very little melanin (the pigment that gives the skin its color) which makes them especially vulnerable to sun damage. This is why babies 6 months old and younger should be kept out of the sun completely. Sunscreen is too harsh for their delicate infant skin.

Why is sun protection so important? Because we know that sun damage causes skin cancer in children, adolescents, and adults. While melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, is still rare in children, a new report published in April 2013, shows that it is actually rising in children. Researchers from Washington University and Harvard have found that the incidence of childhood and adolescent melanoma has increased an average of 2% per year from 1973 to 2009. Moreover, melanoma is nine times more common between the ages of 10 and 20 than it is between birth and 10 years. So, protecting your child from the sun will help protect her from skin cancer throughout her life.

Here’s how to keep your child safe while still having fun in the sun:

  • Apply broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 to 50 about 20 minutes before heading outdoors. Reapply every 2 to 4 hours, or more frequently if your child is sweating or swimming. Don’t forget to apply it to their ears, neck, hairline, hands, and feet. Do not use sunscreen on children 6 months old and younger.
  • Cover up: Your child won’t get a sunburn through clothing. So wearing lightweight protective clothing such as long-sleeved tops and pants is an excellent way to prevent sun damage. Consider buying a protective baby suit like this one or a sun-protective rash guard clothing like this long-sleeved top for toddlers.
  • Hats & Sunglasses: They’re not just fashion accessories; they’re sun-protective.
  • Seek the shade: Remember that the sun is strongest between 10am and 4pm, so limiting your child’s time outdoors during those hours will help. If that’s not possible, then be sure to sneak in shade breaks throughout the day.

Skincancer.org offers more helpful information about sun protection for infants, babies, and toddlers.

One more thing…. Have you gotten naked for someone you love yet? May is Melanoma Awareness Month which means it’s time to get naked and do a skin exam. Please help spread the word by posting about this and about your skin check! Use the hashtag #GNFSYL on Twitter.

Photo credit: FCC, Stevie Lee

Why More Men Are Dying From Skin Cancer

Construction worker places rebar

Scary truth: Male baby boomers (born between 1946-1955) have twice the risk of dying from melanoma as female baby boomers. Why? There are many reasons, most involving lifestyle choices:

  • Men tend to work more outdoors in fields such as construction, landscaping, and farming.
  • Men are less likely than women to wear sunscreen regularly and to cover up with clothing and hats.
  • Men spend lots of time outdoors for recreational activities such as weekend club sports. More men, especially over the age of 50, play golf. (Just one round of golf takes about 5 hours, so you do the math.) Recent statistics say about half of all melanoma skin cancers occur in men 50 and older.
  • Men are less likely to do self skin checks or schedule regular doctors visits.
  • Men are less informed about the dangers of sun exposure. Studies have shown that many national education and awareness campaigns are directed more towards women than men.

Does that mean there’s no hope? Not at all. It’s all about implementing lifestyle changes that will keep you safe.

  • Simple things like wearing hats, wrap-around sunglasses, and long-sleeved shirts go a long way in keeping your skin protected. The guy pictured above is doing it right.
  • Using broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 daily and reapplying it is probably the toughest sell to men who often feel it’s a hassle. If you’ve got a man in your life, I encourage you to help him wear sunscreen regularly. I’d avoid guilt as a motivator, which doesn’t work, and opt for humor or positive comments:  Maybe something like: ”I’d really like to get the kids in the habit of using sunscreen every morning. I’d love it if you’d apply it along with them to show them it’s important.” OR “I really like having you around, honey. Who would take out the garbage every Wednesday?” You get the idea.
  • Do monthly self-skin checks, or better yet, do it with your partner. You’ll have more fun and help keep one another safe. You’re looking for new and changing moles. (Please see this video on the ABCDEs of nodular melanoma.)
  • Know your family history. If you’re at high-risk for melanoma based on genetics or lifestyle choices, then find a dermatologist you like and go for regular screenings. He or she could be the best connection you’ll ever make.
  • For more information, visit The Skin Cancer Foundation at www.skincancer.org.

For more information about raising awareness of men’s health issues, check out my post on Movember and consider becoming a member. And please consider donating to this cause.

Photo credit: FFC, USACEPublicaffairs

Should I Get a Base Tan Before Vacation?

I just got back from a conference in Hawaii. Did I get a base tan first? No. Why? Because it does more harm than good.

Tanned skin is damaged skin. Even if the base tan helps prevent sunburn, you had to damage your skin to get that tan in the first place. Using artificial tanning to rush a tan before you get on your flight can be even more damaging.

Go to Hawaii, swim with the dolphins, lounge by the pool. Cover up, wear sunscreen, sit in the shade. Your skin needs a vacation too.

Photo: J Benabio, MD

Pin It

Why You Might Be Missing Melanoma Skin Cancer

Melanoma is a deadly form of skin cancer. Catching it early is critical. The best way to find melanoma is to check your moles using the ABCDs. However, nodular melanomas can be trickier to find. A recent study from the Archives of Dermatology suggest that we might be missing these nodular melanomas which might be the reason why the death rate for melanoma has not improved in 20 years. How can we find nodular melanomas? Add “E” to your ABCDs.

  • Is the mole Asymmetric?
  • Does it have irregular Borders?
  • Does it have more than one Color?
  • Is the Diameter larger than 6 mm?
  • Is it Evolving (changing) or Elevated?
If it has any of the above and you have any concerns, then make an appointment to see a doctor. If a mole has 2 or more of the above, then it is by definition atypical and it must be checked by a physician.

In this video I’ll explain how examining your moles for the ABCDEs is the best way to catch melanomas as early as possible and to minimize the chances that it has spread.

Dr. Oz Is Wrong On This One

Millions of patients turn to Dr. Oz for advice about their health. He makes complicated health issues easily understandable. Like any doctor, we don’t expect him to be correct all the time. Recently he made a mistake. He recommended using tanning beds for their health benefits.

The only known health benefit of ultraviolet B light (which is in some, not all tanning beds) is to increase vitamin D levels. We know that using tanning beds increases the risk of getting melanoma and the risk of getting other skin cancers. Fortunately, we also know there’s a safe and inexpensive way to increase your vitamin D3 level — simply take vitamin D supplements.

I’m sure if he  consulted a dermatologist (and it needn’t be me), then Dr. Oz would be better informed and would modify his advice. Melanoma skin cancer rates are increasing (while most other cancers are falling) and death from nodular melanoma skin cancer is unchanged despite decades of advances in medicine. We need to give our patients the best evidence we have so they can keep themselves and their families safe.

If this issue is important to you, then please help me by sharing  your thoughts with Dr. Oz and his audience.

Baby Skin Needs Extra Sun Protection

Baby skin is sun-sensitive

Everyone wishes they had baby skin. It feels so soft and smooth; it’s perfectly adapted to induce us adults to want to clean their diaper, no matter how many times they dirty them. Like their big eyes and cute noses, baby skin it part of the whole package of being adorable. But like their eyes, their skin, however beautiful, is immature. Baby skin is thinner, has less natural moisturizers and has fewer pigment cells, making it more vulnerable to the environment than adult skin.

This is important especially in summer. How often do you see babies running around on the beach with just a diaper on? Although they seem indestructable, they are more vulnerable than the adult holding the pail and shovel.

Studies have shown that up to 83% of babies get sunburned their first year of life. This is our fault, not theirs. Sunburns at an early age can increase the risk for melanoma skin cancer on the trunk later in life. Sun exposure is also a poor way to get vitamin D for infants because most will get far more damaging sun than they need to make vitamin D — we adults tend to over cook them.

Here are five tips to keep your baby safe this summer:

1. Newborns up to 6 months should be kept out of the sun. Cover them up with light clothing and hats, and put the top down on the stroller.

2. Babies 6 months and older should not be exposed to the sun between 10am and 2pm. When they are outdoors, they should have sunscreen on all exposed skin. Because their immature skin can absorb chemicals more easily, choose sunscreens with zinc and titanium with an SPF of 30 or more. Chemical or spray sunscreens can burn their eyes which will be sure to make for a cranky baby at the beach.

3. Be sure to apply the sunscreen near their hairline, on their ears and at the edges of clothing — areas often missed by well meaning moms.

4. Choose sunscreens that are white or opaque; it’s easier to see where you’ve applied the sunscreen, and he’ll look cute anyway.

5. Be sure your baby is getting 400 IU of vitamin D everyday, then she won’t need any sun for her vitamin D.

Photo: Limaoscarjuliet, Flickr

3 Ways To Prevent Moles on Your Kids

Protect against sun to reduce moles

Do you ever wish you didn’t have so many moles? It might be too late for you, but it doesn’t have to be for your kids. By reducing their sun exposure, you can reduce the number of moles (also called nevi) they develop.

Sunburns and excess sun exposure are triggers for moles to develop. Having lots of moles can be unsightly and increases their risk of developing melanoma later in life. Reducing excess sun will limit the number of moles they have and reduce their risk for melanoma many years from now.

Many of us grew up without good sunscreens (baby oil and iodine anyone?), but you can do so much more for your children.

  • Apply a water-resistant sunscreen with SPF 30 (preferably one with zinc or titanium).
  • Reapply every two hours.
  • Cover them up with clothing (which is great for the beach when even the best sunscreens wash off in the surf).

Many of my patients wish they didn’t have so many moles. By insisting that your kids protect themselves now, you’ll prevent them from being one of those patients later.

Photo: Atiretoo, Flickr