Many parents ask whether their children need to have their skin checked, and if so how often.
The fact is that skin cancer is very rare in children under the age of 12 years, but melanoma is the third most common cancer in adolescents and young adults aged 17-23. Fortunately the incidence of melanoma in young Australians has reduced since the mid nineties, probably due to the introduction of nationwide sun protection education programmes.
Children rarely have moles when born, but it isn’t necessarily concerning if they do.
Congenital naevi are moles that are present at, or develop soon after, birth. They can gradually increase in size, grow into raised lesions and can grow hairs from them. These moles are not generally concerning, but should always be watched for sudden changes in shape, colour, or if they bleed or are continually irritated.
Giant hairy naevus is a large pigmented skin lesion which typically grows lots of dark hairs as well. These naevi are often cosmetically distressing, but, if over 20cm2, are known to be at high risk of malignant (cancerous) change, so are usually removed surgically.
Spitz naevi are a variant of childhood skin lesions which can look very much like a melanoma – they can be very dark to black, often grow rapidly, and have a “starburst” pigment pattern which can look . Most Spitz naevi are fleshy and raised, and can bleed and be irritated easily. They aren’t always black. Although rare, there is a condition where spitz naevi can be malignant, and are treated as we treat melanomas. Cancerous change is more likely if the child is over 12 years of age. If your child has an odd looking mole, or a new or rapidly changing one, it should be checked by a doctor who is confident in diagnosing skin lesions. Sometimes we will remove these lesions to get a proper diagnosis from the pathologists, to ensure there hasn’t been any cancerous change. Spitz naevi should be monitored closely.
If you have a strong family history of melanoma, your children will have an increased risk of having a melanoma in the future.
However, it is imperative that all children are protected from the sun from their infancy, and any odd moles are checked. If you aren’t sure about something on your child’s skin, ask your GP or see your skin cancer doctor or a dermatologist.