Skin cancer is something that you probably associate with older individuals who spend a lot of time in the sun, but that’s not always the case. Melanomas and other skin cancers can develop in children, and while they are rare, they should be taken very seriously. Pediatric melanomas only represent about one percent of the new melanoma cases diagnosed in the US each year, but they can be deadly. Below, we share some warning signs and treatment options for pediatric melanomas.
Signs and Symptoms of Pediatric Melanomas
Pediatric melanomas often first appear as an isolated mole on your child’s body. The presence of a mole in itself isn’t always a cause for concern, but you should keep an eye on it. Here’s what you should be looking for when you’re performing a mole check on your child.
- Moles that change in shape, color or size.
- Moles that are painful.
- Moles that are itchy.
- Moles that bleed easily.
- Moles that appear shiny or crusty.
- New moles underneath fingernails or toenails.
Most moles on children are nothing to worry about, but it never hurts to be vigilant when it comes to your child’s health. This is especially true if they have a history of sunburns or skin cancer runs in your family.
If you notice any of the above signs, consider setting up an appointment with your pediatrician or a skin cancer specialist like Dr. Koeplin. They’ll perform a physical exam of the mole, and if the growth warrants further investigation, they can do some minimally invasive tests to see if the mole is cancerous or dangerous.
Treating Pediatric Melanomas
If a skin biopsy or another test suggests that your child’s mole is cancerous, your doctor will walk you through all your options. Like any cancer, the likelihood of a successful treatment and becoming cancer free depends on how early the growth is caught and what stage it is in.
Very early growths can sometimes be treated with creams, but most Stage 0 or 1 pediatric skin cancers are treated by simply cutting away the full growth and ensuring only healthy skin is left in the area. Once removed, the healthy skin will usually grow into the space and your child may not even be able to tell they once had a mole there. Regular check ups will ensure the mole has not returned.
For Stage 2 or 3, it’s a little bit more hands-on, but success rates are still high. A wide incision or surgery will be performed to fully remove the growth. The surgeon will also likely perform a lymph node biopsy to ensure the cancer hasn’t spread to the nodes. If it has, further surgery or radiation therapy may be necessary. Stage 4 pediatric cancers are difficult to treat, and it means the cancer has spread. Surgery, immunotherapy and chemotherapy may all be used in combination depending on your specific situation.