August 9, 2005
Melanoma Rates in Kids Continue to Rise
NEW YORK -- The annual rate of occurrence of new melanomas in children in the United States is increasing "rapidly," according to a new report.
"Melanoma is becoming more common in children and adolescents and should be excluded by biopsy if a mole becomes painful, ulcerates, increases in size or bleeds," advised Dr. John J. Strouse in comments to Reuters Health.
Strouse from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, and colleagues used data from the National Cancer Institute's SEER database to investigate the incidence of childhood melanoma from 1973 to 2001.
The incidence of melanoma in children increased by almost 3 percent per year, the investigators report in the July 20th Journal of Clinical Oncology.
Melanoma incidence was higher with increasing age and in females, but significantly lower in blacks, Asians and Native Americans than in whites, the report indicates. The incidence of melanoma directly correlated with environmental UV radiation exposure.
Nonetheless, melanoma in children is quite rare. For example, even among the highest risk group -- older white teen girls -- about three cases of melanoma occur among 100,000 individuals per year.
Survival after a diagnosis of melanoma was lower for males than females, the study shows. However, "With local excision, 5-year survival for pediatric melanoma is excellent," the authors conclude -- except in "infrequent cases" when the cancer has spread into the body.
"No clear screening recommendations exist for children," Strouse noted, "and screening is unlikely to be worthwhile given the rarity of melanoma in children." However, if a parent or older child spots an unusual growth, "Timely evaluation of concerning skin lesions is important," Strouse added.
"Prevention by reducing environmental UV exposure is key," he stressed. That is, using sun screen and clothing to block UV, avoiding hours when UV exposure peaks, and "avoidance of indoor tanning."
SOURCE: Journal of Clinical Oncology, July 20, 2005.