Melanoma can look different in children

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A board-certified dermatologist or board-certified pediatric dermatologist has the tools and expertise needed to examine a suspicious spot or growth on your child’s skin.

Melanoma, the most serious skin cancer, is rare in children. Between 300 and 400 cases are diagnosed in the United States each year1. Because it is so rare, many childhood melanomas are found in the later stages when treatment becomes more involved.

To help parents find melanoma early, when it’s highly treatable, dermatologists want parents to know that melanoma can look different in children than it does in adults. The ABCDEs of melanoma still apply, but you also want to look for the following signs.

  • Red, pink, purple, or flesh-colored spot or growth
    In adults, melanoma often has more than one color, and you’ll usually see brown or black as one of the colors. In children, melanoma can be one single color, and it may not be black or brown.

  • Bleeding or itchy spot or growth
    Studies reveal that many childhood melanomas bleed or are very itchy.

  • Growth that looks like an open sore
    The open sore may heal and return.

  • Bump on the skin that’s growing rapidly
    In adults, melanoma tends to be flat. In children, it’s often raised.

    If you see a mole (or growth) that is growing quickly and is now larger than your child’s other moles, it’s time to have a board-certified dermatologist or pediatric dermatologist examine it.

  • Dark streak beneath a fingernail or toenail
    This can be a sign of melanoma, so it’s best to have a board-certified dermatologist or pediatric dermatologist examine it.

Do you think you could spot these signs on your child’s skin? Find out by taking this quiz.

Quiz: Could you spot a possible melanoma on your child's skin?




1 National Cancer Institute. Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program (SEER). “Cancer stat facts: Melanoma of the skin.” Last accessed August 15, 2018.

Additional related resources

ABCDEs of melanoma
When looking for signs of melanoma on your child’s skin, you’ll also want to look for these signs.

5 signs your child’s mole needs to be checked
If you see a mole on your child’s skin that has any of these signs, it’s time for your child to see dermatologist to make sure it’s nothing serious.

How to prevent skin cancer
You’ll find simple, effective ways to protect your child’s skin.

Find a dermatologist
You can use “Specialty” to find a pediatric dermatologist.


Images
Images 1, 2: Getty Images
Images 3-7: Images used with permission of the American Academy of Dermatology:

  • J Am Acad Dermatol 2011;64:559-72.
  • J Am Acad Dermatol 2017;77:886-92.
  • J Am Acad Dermatol 2013;68:913-25.

References
Gupta D, Frieden I, et al. “Poster 5407: Evidence for modification of the ABCDE criteria for pediatric melanoma.” J Am Acad Dermatol. 2012;66(4):Suppl 1:AB1. Commercial support: None identified.

Mitkov M, Chrest M, et al. “Pediatric melanomas often mimic benign skin lesions: A retrospective study.” J Am Acad Dermatol. 2016;75(4):706-11.

National Cancer Institute. Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program (SEER). “Cancer stat facts: Melanoma of the skin.” Last accessed August 15, 2018.

Scher RK and Lipner SR. “To the editor: Pediatric melanomas often mimic benign skin lesions.” J Am Acad Dermatol. 2017; 76(4):e131.

Strouse JJ, Fears TR, et al. “Pediatric melanoma: Risk factor and survival analysis of the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results database.” J Clin Oncol. 2005;23: 4735-41.

Verzi AE, Bubley JA, et al. “Poster 5108: Superficial spreading melanoma in the pediatric population, a single institution assessment of prepubertal and adolescent cases.” J Am Acad Dermatol. 2017;76(6):Suppl 1:AB244. Commercial support: None identified.