This week, the Houston Chronicle reported on a new trend which has seen incidences of pediatric melanoma increasing each year. In fact, since the 1970s, pediatric melanoma has increased by 2% each year. Pediatric melanoma can also look different from adult melanoma, which makes it often more difficult to diagnose.
At 3 years old, Daniela Perez’s melanoma first made its appearance. Her mother noticed what appeared to be a pimple on her thigh. The “pimple” was initially diagnosed as a wart, and while resisting treatment, it also began to grow bigger. It was finally a biopsy which determined the correct diagnosis.
Until recently, not many people associated children with melanoma, primarily known as a killer of adults. But a 2013 study found that, though still rare, it’s increasingly striking children: U.S. pediatric cases rose 2 percent a year between 1973 and 2009, from a total of less than 250 a year then to about 500 now. Studies also have found increases in England, Sweden and Australia.
University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center sees more child patients than anywhere else in the United States. This is partly due to referrals from nonspecialists, who are unsure what to do with adolescent patients. Only a few doctors specialize in dealing with these cases.
Melanoma develops when skin cells called melancytes become abnormal and multiply in an uncontrolled way. The cells, which normally give skin its color and protect the deeper levels from sun damage, form a mass of tissue, or a tumor, when they’re multiplying uncontrollably that can spread and damage healthy tissue. The reasons for the jump in pediatric cases are unclear. Some suspect – though there’s no supporting data – it may involve the depletion of the ozone layer, which absorbs most of the sun’s ultraviolet radiation.
As mentioned, the diagnosis is not an easy one, and the melanoma is often mistaken for bug bites and warts. The lesions appear to be light colored and defined instead of the adult irregularly pigmented. In 2011, a study found that 60% of pediatric cases did not follow the ABCDs of melanoma. This unfortunately leads to pediatric melanoma being discovered late and as we know, the earlier the detection, the better. Fortunately, for Daniela, she is now 6 years old and in remission.
We at MoleSafe think that this team is doing a great job of spreading awareness. Parents should not be paranoid, but simply aware that melanoma can affect children.
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