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Dermatology Study Indicates Children Are At Higher Risk of Invasive Melanoma

The results of a study conducted at John Hopkins Children’s Center were published in the journal, Cancer, on October 5, 2011, indicating that children are more likely to develop an invasive form of melanoma skin cancer than adults. It was the first study to compare children and young adults.

Over a five-year period, the dermatology researchers kept data on 717 children and 1,368 adults under the age of 24. All study participants had been diagnosed with melanoma. The study found that the child patients were at greater risk of metastases of the lymph nodes. These are called “sentinel lymph nodes,” and they indicate that the cancer cells could be reaching a deep layer of the skin.

When biopsies were performed on the sentinel lymph nodes, only 14 percent of the adult study participants had cancer cells within the nodes, while 25 percent of the children had cancer cells within the nodes. The thicker the tumors, the more likely that cancer cells were present. Children with the same thickness of tumors as the adults in the study, however, had cancer cells six times more frequently than the adults.

Younger children under the age of ten seemed to be at even greater risk. Researchers believe these discrepancies are due to biological differences between children and adults, and it points to the need for additional studies to learn more about pediatric dermatology and pediatric melanoma in particular.

The good news is that the study found that children were just as likely to survive melanoma as adults. It is also good news that dermatologists continue to find melanoma to be unusual in children. Due to tanning salons and sun exposure, however, melanoma is on the rise in both children and adults.

What is Melanoma?

Melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer. With this type of cancer, melanocytes, the cells that produce skin pigment, become malignant, usually as a result of too much sun exposure. People with fair skin are particularly at risk, as are young children who are not properly protected by sunscreen when outside. Those with a family history of skin cancer are also at higher risk.

A melanoma usually begins as a dark spot similar to a mole and begins to spread. These spots generally do not have a regular, symmetrical border. When detected early, melanoma is usually treatable, but if it is not detected early, it can spread and cause death. Everyone should visit a dermatology department if any suspicious spots appear.

According to the National Cancer Institute, 8,800 people are expected to die in 2011 from melanoma out of a total of 70,000 new cases of the disease.


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