Skin Cancer In Children: Causes, Symptoms, And Treatment

By Sreoshi SenguptaSreoshi Sengupta  • 
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Children’s skin is quite sensitive, and problems such as lack of proper care, attention, and environmental factors can affect a child’s skin. Prominent skin diseases in children include ringworm, impetigo, hives, contact dermatitis, warts, etc. But, shockingly, skin cancer has emerged as one of the most fatal and frightening skin disease kids encounter today. When the moles and warts turn out to be malignant, then the child develops skin cancer, as excess sun exposure can lead to carcinoma or melanoma. But, before you get worried and panic, let’s look at some of the important facts about skin cancer in children.

What Is Skin Cancer In Kids?

The presence of patchy skin, moles and warts, or malignant tumors in the epidermal and dermal layers of the skin indicates skin cancer. Even though skin cancer is rare in children, the National Cancer Institute reveals that around 500 children in the US are diagnosed with pediatric melanoma. And, skin cancer accounts for around 2% of childhood cancers in the US.

[ Read: Most Common Childhood Cancer ]

Are Children At A Risk Of Developing Skin Cancer?

Though skin cancer is rarer in children than adults, it can affect children as well. Factors such as family history, genes, and environmental issues like excessive exposure to the sun can lead to the development of skin cancer. Kids are not aware of the harmful effects of the sun on the skin and often play for long hours without bothering to apply sunscreen lotion every two hours.

Activities and outdoor games also expose children to UV rays, increasing the risk factors tremendously. Parents often fail to understand the need to apply sun protecting creams or lotions on kids, the use of sunglasses and body covering clothes which expose them to the risk of skin cancers such melanoma and carcinoma [1].

Types of Skin Cancer In Children:

The three top types of skin cancer found in children are Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC), Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) and Malignant Melanoma:

1. Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)

It is a cancer of the basal cells and it is present at the bottom of the epidermis. Also called a rodent ulcer, it is one of the most common types of skin cancer diagnosed. They are slow growing in nature and almost never spread to the other parts of the body.

If treated at an early stage, BCC can be cured completely. But, if left untreated, there is a chance of cancer getting aggressive and can spread to the deeper layers of the skin, and to the bones too, making treatment almost impossible.

Sometimes, even after complete treatment, in a span of few years, the skin cancer can come back again, and the condition is called local recurrence.

[ Read: Bone Cancer In Children ]

2. Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)

It is a cancer of the keratinocyte cells, which are present in the outer layers of the skin. Considered to be the second most common type of skin cancer, it requires a simple treatment with favorable results. The SCC is slow growing in nature and hardly spreads to the other parts of the body you can control the situation if you start the treatment at the early stages.

But if the condition is left untreated for too long due to lack of awareness and proper diagnosis, it runs the risk of spreading to the other areas of the body, especially if it is of aggressive nature, in certain cases. In the event of children, SCC can be completely cured if the treatment is done in time resulting in a healthy and fulfilling adult life.

Cancerous Moles In Children:

Cancerous moles in children are known as malignant tumors that lead to melanoma. A cancerous mole is a skin cancer that is the rarest and the most dangerous type of skin cancer. The skin cells or melanocytes present in the skin start to multiply rapidly in an unchecked and uncontrolled manner, leading to moles of destructive nature. Melanoma spreads quickly and aggressively in the body and can be fatal if not treated at the early stages, especially in the case of children.

Unlike BCC and SCC, melanoma reacts differently and can cause serious complications in the body in a short span of time because of its aggressive nature. It needs to be treated as soon as possible to keep the condition in check.

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Melanoma In Children

Melanoma rarely affects children, which makes it difficult to diagnose as the cases are infrequent. And, so are the treatment facilities. Every case is unique and needs to be handled with expertise. But, the good news is that children recover faster and in a better way from the disease than adults. If diagnosed early, melanoma in kids is cured only by surgery and does not require any treatment after that.

It is essential that the disease is diagnosed and treated as soon as possible in children to achieve successful results. For that, you should take your child to a comprehensive and advanced cancer treatment institute, which has exposure to such cases and experienced specialist to undergo such treatment procedures for successful results.

Factors That Cause Skin Cancer In Children:

Some factors that could lead to skin cancer in children, include:

  • Exposure to the sun as the kids spends long hours playing outside without proper sun protection. The UV rays of the sun damage the DNA leading to a mutation in the cells and unchecked multiplication of the skin cells causes malignant tumors.
  • Children with very fair skin are at a greater risk of developing skin cancer. The pigment called melanin is not in sufficient quantities in the skin to provide natural protection from the harmful effects of sun’s rays.
  • In teenage kids, especially girls, the risk increases with the use of tanning beds and sun lamps as these procedures use ultraviolet rays which, if absorbed by the skin for a long time can cause skin cancer.
  • A family history of cancer or past medical history, radiotherapy or exposure to UV rays for any other reason can also be a risk factor for developing skin cancer in children. The skin type also determines the level of damage.

[ Read: Sun Safety For Kids ]

Symptoms Of Skin Cancer In Children:

In adults, the melanomas appear to be dark in color but with kids, they can seem to be whitish or pinkish in the shade. Some prominent symptoms of skin cancer are:

  • A bump on the epidermal layer of the skin that itches and bleeds
  • A yellowish or pinkish wart that has a crust and bleeds often
  • Skin lesions, which are not dark, unlike in adults that are dark in color
  • Odd looking large moles that look different than other children

Treating Skin Cancer In Kids

1. Surgery:

For I and II stages of skin cancer in children, specialists opt for surgery to treat the condition. It is also required that the doctor removes any additional normal skin around the tumor or mole that is on the side of the biopsy. It depends on upon how deeply the melanoma has affected the skin.

2. Lymph Node Dissection:

For patients that have advanced stage II level of melanoma, apart from surgery, treatment also include lymph node dissection. It is then followed by interferon, another adjacent therapy for complete treatment.

3. Chemotherapy and Immunotherapy:

In the advanced stages of skin cancer, a combination of chemotherapy and immunotherapy is adapted to control the situation and check the spreading of tumors in other parts of the body. In addition to that, immune checkpoint inhibitors are also utilized in case of children too for effective results. [2]

Preventive Measures Required:

The best approach towards skin cancer in children is prevention. To reduce the risk factors that can lead to skin cancer, consider doing:

1. Sun Protection For Kids:

  • Using a sunscreen with SPF 15 or above when doing outdoor activities
  • Making children wear hats with brims to avoid exposure to the sun
  • Application of sunscreen should be made half an hour before stepping out in the sun. And, sunscreen should be re-applied every two hours when outside
  • Discourage children from using tanning booth
  • Regular examination of the child’s body should be done
  • Medicines such as antibiotics and steroids to be administered to the children with caution as they make their skin more sensitive towards sunlight

Risk Factors For Skin Cancer In Children:

Some of the prominent risk factors in children for developing skin cancer are:

  • Exposure To Ultraviolet Radiation
  • Fair Skin
  • Gender
  • Exposure to Chemicals
  • Radiation
  • History of Skin Cancer
  • Long term severe skin problems
  • Family diseases
  • Weakened Immunity system
  • HIV infection
  • Genetics/Family History

[ Read: Sunburns In Kids ]

Facts And Information About Skin Cancer For Kids

  1. About 90 percent of skin cancer in children and adults is caused by the exposure to the ultraviolet rays of the sun.
  1. If a person has instances of more than five sunburns, his or her risk of developing skin cancer doubles leading to complications in adult life.
  1. Ultraviolet radiation that is frequently used in tanning booths is a proven carcinogen and can lead to several forms of cancer in the human body, including skin cancers like melanoma.
  1. In the US alone, approximately 4.5 million cases of skin cancers have been diagnosed and treated. It excludes the cases of malignant melanoma, which is the worst and the most aggressive type of skin cancer, in kids and adults.
  1. Organ transplant patients are 100 times more likely to develop Squamous Cell Carcinoma, a type of skin cancer as compared to the general public. [3]

How Common is Skin Cancer in Children?

Melanoma, the worst type of skin cancers, is occasionally found in newborn babies but is more common as the children start growing older. Around 8% of cancers in teens in the US are caused by melanoma. The percentage of teenage girls diagnosed with melanoma is higher than the teenage boys because of the excessive exposure to ultraviolet radiation caused by sun’s rays and the tanning beds.

Hope the article was informative and conclusive enough to clear your doubts regarding skin cancer in kids. For more information on skin cancer, feel free to comment below or share your views and experience with our readers and us.

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