Do children need regular skin cancer checks?
One of the most important things to a parent is keeping their child healthy, so a question commonly asked by concerned mums and dads is whether children should have regular skin checks.
New freckles and moles grow on children's skin on an almost daily basis. In fact, most of the moles we develop during our lifetime grow between birth and young adulthood. The appearance of new moles is even more frequent when a child is frequently outside, especially during summer holidays, playing sport or taking part in outdoor school activities.
Skin cancer is predominantly caused by skin damage as a result of unprotected exposure to the sun, and unfortunately most of our lifetime skin damage occurs during childhood. That means the skin cancers you find in your 50s, 60s and beyond probably resulted from damage incurred decades ago.
It is therefore incredibly important that children use sun protection every day. Wearing a hat and sunscreen whenever they go outdoors is essential, and you can also help protect their skin by keeping them inside during the peak UV times (usually 10am to 3pm in summer) and seeking shade when enjoying the outdoors. Clothes that cover their skin, such as collared shirts and long pants, are also important. Learning sun safe habits now can help them develop healthy practices later in life.
The good news is that the risk of being diagnosed with skin cancer during childhood is very low, and regular skin cancer checks might not be necessary until children reach 15 years of age, when the effects of skin damage might begin to show.
However, there are times when a skin cancer check might be a good idea for young children:
- If they have a family history of skin cancer, especially melanoma. Having a family history of skin cancer increases your own risk of developing the disease, no matter how old you are.
- If they have fair skin and a large number of moles. Having more than 100 moles puts children at higher than average risk for skin cancer.
If your child fits with any of the above, you should speak to your skin cancer doctor about whether beginning skin checks is a good idea. Skin cancer becomes more prevalent after the age of 15, when children at high risk of developing the disease are recommended to start regular checks.
Even if your child doesn't fall into the high risk category, it is a good idea to monitor their skin for new or abnormal growths. Keep in mind the ABCDE guide to help identify melanoma. This includes asymmetrical moles, moles with irregular borders, moles larger than six millimetres, moles with multiple colours, and moles that are growing or evolving.
Other signs of skin cancer include lesions on the skin that won't heal, or any growths that have become raised but were previously flat.
If you find any suspicious moles on yourself or your child, it's important to get a full-body skin cancer check as soon as possible.