Doctors see more skin cancer in kids

April 15, 2013

Overall malignant melanoma diagnoses in children and adolescents have been rising steadily since 1973. A new study says that indoor tanning beds could be one factor for the increase of this skin cancer.

Overall malignant melanoma diagnoses in children and adolescents have been rising steadily since 1973. A new study says that indoor tanning beds could be one factor for the increase of this skin cancer.

Researchers used Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) program data for 1973 to 2009 to calculate age-adjusted melanoma incidence rates and annual percent changes, and categorize registries as low or high ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation exposure. They found 1,230 white children aged 0 to 19 years who had been diagnosed with malignant melanoma and analyzed the participants by sex, stage, age at diagnosis, and primary site.

Data showed that melanoma incidence increased by 2% per year for the period. The incidence rate was 1.6 times higher in girls compared with boys for all age groups. Girls, those aged from 15 to 19 years, and children with low UVB exposure had significantly higher incidence rates than boys, younger children, and those categorized as high UVB. Boys showed higher incidence rates for melanoma on the face and trunk compared with girls who showed higher incidence for the lower limbs and hip.

The researchers note the increasing incidence of melanoma among older adolescents and point to increased natural UV exposure from sunlight and increased artificial exposure from indoor tanning beds, especially in cities with lower UV index scores, as possible factors. Most of a person’s lifetime UV exposure occurs during childhood, with solar UVB rays most responsible for sunburns in those who spend more time outdoors during summer months. However, evidence suggests that UVA exposure from indoor tanning also increases melanoma risk, and 24% of US adolescents aged 13 to 19 years report using tanning beds. Nearly 12% of this age group report frequent use of 10 or more times.

Malignant melanoma is the most common skin cancer in children and adolescents, representing 1% of all new cases annually in the United States. Five-year survival is nearly 100% for cases diagnosed in localized stages, highlighting the importance of early detection.