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Children & Skin Cancer

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Does your child use sunscreen everyday?  I know parents talk (nag) their children about the importance of wearing sunscreen, especially during these “lazy days of summer”. The bigger question is, “does your pediatrician counsel your children on sun safety as well?” 

In a recent study researchers from Baylor College of Medicine found that a doctor’s instructions may also help young people to understand that sun exposure and indoor tanning harms the skin. The message about sun safety should not only include that sun damage “will make your skin look ugly”, but that at the same time, “it may ultimately lead you down the road to skin cancer”.  

I often point out areas of sun damage on sunburned shoulders or chests and also those cute freckled noses that are prime targets for later skin cancer. I am graphic enough to talk about the skin doctor who will one day have to take a “chunk” out of your cute nose or on your chest (especially important for a teen girl) which will leave a ugly scar, and maybe no more “low cut” dresses.  

By making sun-safe behavioral changes at a young age there is a better chance of impacting tweens/teens risk of developing skin cancer later in life.  Starting a conversation about sun safety (or obesity), with adults over 21 is just too late. The changes need to begin early and the message should be frequent (at least at yearly check ups). 

The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force is also backing early counseling for sun safety.  Knowing that skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S., with reports that the incidence of melanomas is increasing (about 70,000 cases in 2011), only reinforces the need to teach being “sun smart” to kids. 

So remind your pediatrician to talk to your kids about using sunscreen and avoiding tanning beds.  Watch for the new labels on sunscreen that will be coming from the FDA as well.  Lastly, model sun safe behavior and use sunscreen and hats yourself, I see a new cute sun hat in my vacation bag, along with lots of sunscreen in sprays, lotions and sticks!! 

Your Child

Skin Cancer Risk Higher for Redheaded and Fair Skin Children


Too much exposure to sunlight can damage the skin, particularly for children who have pale skin, red or fair hair, freckles or the type of skin that sunburns easily. 

Researchers found that having the genes that give you red hair, pale skin and freckles increases your risk of developing skin cancer as much as an extra 21 years of sun exposure.

Their study found gene variants that produce red hair and freckly, fair skin were linked to a higher number of mutations that lead to skin cancers. The researchers said even people with one copy of the crucial MC1R gene - who may be fair-skinned but not have red hair - have a higher risk.

"It has been known for a while that a person with red hair has an increased likelihood of developing skin cancer, but this is the first time that the gene has been proven to be associated with skin cancers with more mutations," said David Adams, who co-led the study at Britain's Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.

"Unexpectedly, we also showed that people with only a single copy of the gene variant still have a much higher number of tumor mutations than the rest of the population."

Redheads have two copies of a variant of the MC1R gene which affects the type of melanin pigment they produce, leading to red hair, freckles, pale skin and a strong tendency to burn in the sun.

Exposure to ultraviolet light from either the sun or sunbeds causes damage to DNA and scientists think the type of skin pigment linked to redheads may allow more UV to reach the DNA.

In this latest study, the researchers found that while this may be one factor in the damage, there are also others linked to the crucial MC1R gene.

Although skin cancer is rare in children, the amount of sun exposure during childhood is thought to increase the risk of developing skin cancer in adult life. Children who have had episodes of sunburn are more likely to develop skin cancers in later life.

The skin of children is more delicate and more prone to damage. Therefore, take extra care with children, and keep babies out of the sun completely.

Because infants’ skin is so sensitive, it’s better in the first six months to shield them from the sun rather than use sunscreen. It’s especially important to avoid direct sun exposure and seek the shade during the sun’s hours of greatest intensity, between 10 AM and 4 PM. Keep to the shady side of the street on walks, and use the sun shield on your stroller

Once your baby reaches 6 months of age, it’s time to introduce sunscreens. Choose a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen that offers a minimum sun protection factor (SPF) of 15. Look at the active ingredients; zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are good choices, because these physical filters don’t rely on absorption of chemicals and are less apt to cause a skin reaction. Test your baby’s sensitivity to the sunscreen first, by applying a small amount on the inside of baby’s wrist.

Toddlers should also be kept in the shade between 10 AM-4 PM. Protect young children with sunscreen, hats, sunglasses and lightweight clothing that covers the skin.

The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.

Most kids get much of their lifetime sun exposure before age 18, so it's important for parents to teach them how to enjoy fun in the sun safely. Taking the right precautions can greatly reduce your child's chance of developing skin cancer.

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