Melanoma is the most common skin cancer in children. About 7 percent of cancers in 15 to 19 year olds are melanomas, according to St Jude’s Research Hospital for Children in Memphis, Tennessee.
To decrease your teen’s odds of developing melanoma, Michael DiSimone, PA-C at the Dermatology Center in Fredericksburg recommends, “While having fun outside make sure to wear sunscreen of at least 30 SPF, re-apply frequently, and limit total sun exposure.” According to the Centers for Disease Control and American Cancer Society, this is especially important for those of Caucasian descent, since melanoma occurs five times more often in this population than in Latinos and 20 times more often than in African Americans.
Encourage your teen to keep their skin safe by applying sunscreen daily, including on cloudy days when, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, up to 80 percent of UV rays can still reach the ground. You’ll also want to remind them to reapply sunscreen regularly, especially if they get sweaty or wet, like at a pool — sunscreen will wash off if not given time to soak into the skin. Encourage your teen to wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses when they are in the sun for an extended period. UV-resistant clothing is also readily available online and at some local stores.
If you instill good sun safety habits in your kids at a young age, it’s less likely that they’ll develop tanning habits as teens. Heidi DiEugenio, mother of two and Fredericksburg Parent’s director of business development and marketing, was one such person. Today, she is a melanoma survivor
“Growing up in California, I passed most of my time in the water. My teen years were spent slathered with cocoa butter and sun tan oil. When tanning beds hit it big, I fell for the promise of a year-round tan and got a job at a tanning salon when I was in college. Sunscreen was a deterrent to my goal, so it was only used when I was on the verge of a painful burn,” says DiEugenio.
Since her diagnosis in 2008, DiEugenio has changed her sun-loving ways and visits her dermatologist every six months. She also takes her two sons to have yearly skin checks.
It’s important to stress that skin cancer is easy to find if you just look for it and the precautions outlined above will help prevent it. If you see a spot or a mole on yourself or on your child that looks suspicious, have a dermatologist check it. Many melanomas start as spots or moles on the skin. Signs to look for included a spot that has changed, particularly if it appears asymmetrical, has a fuzzy border, includes more than one color, is growing larger or has other changes such as oozing or scaling.
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Mary Becelia is a local writer and mother of a teen and a 'tween.